Vivek Raina, co-founder and CEO, Excitel

Excitel believes that fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) is the way forward for connecting users. The technology provides unhindered access to the internet with minimum disruptions, besides catering to all speed and data needs. In an interview with tele.net, Vivek Raina, co-founder and chief executive officer, Excitel, talks about the company’s plans and future growth areas…

How has been your journey in the Indian broadband market? What are your key focus areas?

The journey has been great for us. Our high speed FTTH services in India have reached half a million subscribers across 19 cities. Since our incorporation four years ago, we have made a foray into key cities such as Delhi-NCR, Jaipur, Lucknow, Prayagraj, Hyderabad, Vijayawada, Guntur, Unnao, Kanpur, Jhansi, Bengaluru and Visakhapatnam. We are now executing our plan of doubling the number of subscribers and reaching over 50 more cities by the end of 2021.

What are the growth drivers for the fixed broadband market in India? How has Covid-19 impacted the market?

The growth of fixed line broadband has been stifled in India. The fact that we have just around 20 million connections for a population of 1.3 billion is testimony to the poor penetration levels. Fixed broadband has largely been a concept sale, where a consumer is made aware about the difference between mobile internet and wireline broadband, and how wireline is an ideal medium for online entertainment, gaming, education, etc.

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed this completely. As people were confined to their homes, they used the internet for work, entertainment, online education and communication with their friends and family. The limitations of mobile internet became clear and a huge spurt in demand for wireline broadband was witnessed. Wireline broadband is now being perceived as a basic utility for a household just like water, electricity and gas.

How has the pandemic impacted your business? What measures have you taken to manage the demand?

Excitel added around 100,000 new users during the lockdown, indicating a huge spurt in demand and subsequent activations. The data usage per connection also shot up. From an average 9-10 GB per day consumption pre-lockdown, we reached 17-18 GB per day data consumption on our networks. The spike has not bothered us much since our back end has been designed to support high quality video viewing and handle hundreds of gigabytes of data. We are currently delivering 600 gigabits of data over a massive fibre network of 30,000 km, including our partners’ networks, to about 500,000 households. In Delhi-NCR, we are perhaps the biggest non-telco FTTH player.

What are the key challenges facing Excitel at the moment? How do you plan to address these?

A big challenge is to shift all our existing users from legacy copper networks to FTTH. We plan to be a fibre-only company by end 2021. To this end, from February 2021, Excitel has stopped its legacy sales all together and 100 per cent of new sales are happening on FTTH. Another challenge is to spread to 50 new cities by the end of 2021, for which we are developing our management capacity and building tech resources.

What are the various models the industry is exploring on the content side? Is Excitel working on some partnerships and collaborations?

I think bundling with various over-the-top platforms has become customary for most internet service providers. Excitel is also in the process of tying up with various such platforms and will be offering a bundled deal very soon.

What are your future plans in terms of service expansion and investments in 2021?

Excitel is working towards reaching over 50 more cities by the end of 2021. We are currently in discussions with global and Indian investors for our Series C round of funding. We have previously raised a total of $6 million from European investors and have been able to achieve an annual revenue run rate of over $35 million, demonstrating our ability to efficiently deploy capital.

We expect to raise $20 million-$25 million (Rs 1.5 billion-Rs 1.75 billion) in the fresh round, which will help us scale from 500,000 users to 5 million users over the next few years. We are looking forward to providing the most accessible and affordable FTTH internet service in the country.