All telecom stakeholders, including tower companies (towercos), have started leveraging opportunities in areas such as smart poles, the expanding data centre space, and the evolving electric vehicle (EV) charging landscape. While towercos are actively collaborating with smart city authorities to deploy smart poles, the EV charging ecosystem is yet to pick up pace. Further, data centres are another growth avenue that towercos are exploring. A look at the emerging growth areas for towercos…

Smart poles

Smart poles are emerging as the core components of smart city infrastructure, which has opened up a new revenue stream for towercos. Towercos participating in the Smart Cities Mission have started collaborating with the city administration to convert existing street elements such as street poles, light poles and traffic lights into smart poles. Some of the elements such as public address systems, sirens, smart billboards, parking surveillance, mobile wireless 4G/LTE connectivity via small cells, EV charging stations and emergency call-out boxes are already being tried and tested by the industry players.

An important asset for 5G

Smart poles will be ideal for installing 5G equipment, thus saving on the need for a new pole. These poles can help wireless carriers to quickly and easily densify their network coverage and increase capacity in congested public places. Thus, these smart poles will support several emerging areas with 5G such as connected cars, IoT devices, smart homes, and cloud and data centres.

Key options for monetisation

Smart poles also present potential revenue stream opportunities for towercos. Some of them include monetisation through telecom equipment on smart poles, space for edge data centres, EV charging infrastructure, advertisement, leasing out of optical fibre to service providers and revenue from low-power IoT sensors.

Edge data centres

Another growth avenue for towercos is edge data centres. These data centres are gaining traction due to the proliferation of several applications that require edge computing technology. To this end, towercos have certain strengths such as a vast fibre footprint, which give them an edge in the data centre business. Further, telecom tower sites have steady power supply, ready access to fibre backhaul connectivity and the requisite real estate. They are also located at the network edge.

Growth opportunities

Going forward, the demand for data centres will be led by the user requirements of speed, real-time decision-making, faster response times and break-free communication. This will drive the penetration of such centres among users nearby and in remote places. In addition, expectations regarding latency and network speed will fuel the demand of computing and server storage on edge. The Covid-19 pandemic has also provided an impetus to the data centre market, due to work-from-home arrangements. Possible near future opportunities for edge data centres lie in content management, OTT, e-learning, the auto sector, tele-medicine, gaming, and travel and tourism.

Evolving EV charging landscape

The EV charging landscape is expected to grow exponentially in India, which will open up immense opportunities for towercos. At present, the country has around 2 million EVs, out of which around 1.75 million are e-rickshaws, 7,000 are electric cars and 0.48 million are electric two-wheelers. The EV charging landscape is expected to witness a rise from the current 1 per cent of the total automobile stock to 30 per cent of the overall auto market stock by 2030.

However, challenges such as sustainability, scalability and inclusivity are being encountered in the Smart Cities Mission, mainly due to the confusion among the authorities as to whether to get into a public-private partnership model or not. With changing technology, evolving standards, and a lack of operations and maintenance (O&M) by the government, the growth of the EV charging ecosystem is being hampered. To address this issue, we need to have a balanced model, wherein investments can be made by private players and there is freedom to choose the kind of service through which the capex burden of the authorities is reduced. With this, there will be enhanced O&M capabilities with increased uptime and a self-sustainable model with minimum investment. Other challenges that need to be addressed include infrastructure readiness, overall throughput time required for charging, and lack of standardisation in EV batteries. Further, while battery swapping is still in the nascent stage, no government subsidy is provided.

That said, smart poles can contribute a sizeable share in the ecosystem. EV charging points can be integrated with street lights to support EV charging infrastructure roll-out in the country. Smart poles can also address the issue of limited availability of charging stations. Since smart poles are already equipped with electricity connections, they can easily and cost effectively host EV charging points, besides ensuring safety. s

Based on a presentation by Neelesh Kelkar, Lead, Emerging Businesses Digitization and Smart City, Indus Towers