An analysis conducted by Green­field Foreign Direct Investment has shown India ranks the lowest in the fibre development index despite being one of the world’s fastest growing telecom markets. Major telecom markets including Singa­pore, South Korea, China, Japan, the US, Canada, Australia, the UK and Ger­many rank higher in the fibre development index than India. Further, India’s fibre kilometre (fkm) per capita stands at a meagre 0.09 fkm, as compared to Japan’s 1.35 fkm, the US’s 1.34 fkm and China’s 0.87 fkm. This underscores the need for scaling up optical fibre cable (OFC) networks in India to fully leverage the potential of 5G.

Benefits of fibre-based 5G networks

The roll-out of an effective 5G network requires the de­p­loyment of 20-30 times the existing am­ount of fibre cable in India. Fibre can support multiple network topologies concurrently while ensuring unparalleled security and dependability. This positions fibre networks as one of the most reliable infrastructures for 5G backhaul. A robust fibre cable network provides several benefits. It en­su­res low latency and seamless network access for users, and contri­butes to improved mobile coverage and faster internet speeds.

OFC demand scenario

The global demand for OFC reached 535 million fkm in 2022. China witnessed the highest demand of over 260 million fkm, whereas India’s demand lagged behind wi­th a modest demand of 18 million-20 mi­llion fkm. While India and China share a lot of similarities in terms of population size and pattern, the same cannot be said for fibre cable deployment. During 2020-22, China’s demand for OFC networks in­creased periodically, starting from 237 mi­lli­on fkm in 2020 and moving all the way up to 264 million fkm in 2022. Meanwhile, the demand for OFC networks in India remained stagnant during the same period, growing marginally from 17 million fkm to only 18 million fkm.

This is in contrast to the fact that India is a global fibre supplier. India’s fibre ex­por­ts during 2020-22 were significantly higher than its consumption, reaching 30-35 million fkm. During the same period, the co­u­n­try manufactured 55 million fkm of fibre cables. Interestingly, the Indian OFC market witnessed significant export growth as compared to the scarce demand in domestic circles. India generated a total of Rs 35.5 bi­llion through OFC exports, while the revenue generated domestically was Rs 25 billion. This disparity between domestic and gl­­obal demand could be a cause for concern.

Driving OFC growth in India

The economic impact of 5G deployment in India is estimated to reach $1 trillion by 2035. As of 2023, approximately 36 per cent of telecom towers have been fib­erised. India must fiberise at least 70 per cent of its towers by 2025 to cater to the incoming demand for 5G networks. In order to drive the demand, the government should promote rural connectivity through various initiatives such as BharatNet, Digi­tal India and the Smart Cities Mission.

As part of the National Broadband Mis­si­on, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways is planning to establish internet connectivity for 200,000 km of national highways and expressways by 2025. Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited is set to lead the investment for 4G deployment. The incr­easing number of data centres in India will further fuel the growth of 5G networks. Indian Railways is also planning to modernise its signalling and telecommunication infrastructure through 5G deployment.

Future outlook

The measures and initiatives taken by the government and telcos are expected to propel the demand for OFC networks in India. Over 500 million mobile subscri­bers are expected to transition to 5G by 2028 in India, which will further drive the expansion of OFC networks. s

Based on a presentation by Pramod Srivastava, Chief Executive Officer, West Coast Optilinks