By Dr Anand Agarwal, Chief Executive Officer, Sterlite Technologies

With the government taking key policy initiatives like Network for Spectrum (NFS), BharatNet, Di­g­i­­tal India, Smart Cities, e-governance and state-wide broadband networks, nation-critical data, security, and other services will be delivered over fibre-based digital infrastructure in the near future. In light of this, it has become crucial to protect the national digital infrastructure from cyberattacks to ensure continuity of critical services to citizens and safeguard national security.

In recent times, India has witnessed a spurt in cyberattacks. According to a recent survey report by KPMG on cybercrime in India, 72 per cent of respondents stated that they faced cyberattacks in 2015. Despite this, 54 per cent indicated that their spend on cyberdefence was less than 5 per cent of their IT budget. The public sector is even more vulnerable and exposed to cyberthreats.

Copper cable-based networks are leg­acy networks and thus continue to dominate India’s telecom infrastructure. However, these age-old copper-based networks are struggling to meet the demands of the evolving world of digitisation due to limited bandwidth capacities and susceptibility to cyberattacks. Copper cables are not capable of meeting the rapidly exploding bandwidth requirements and are also energy inefficient. This has led to deterioration in data and service quality and high operational costs for telecom operators. Against this backdrop, the government is now laying the backbone of a future communication network by relying on advanced fibre optic technology in projects like BharatNet and NFS. Given the low fiberisation in India, focused efforts need to be made in this direction. Over 80 per cent of the current network rides on copper cables or microwaves, which need to be upgraded for a secure high-capacity network.

The benefits of using optical fibre cable (OFC) for critical national infrastructure development such as smart cities, BharatNet and NFS are far beyond those that can be derived from copper cables. For instance, in the case of smart cities, smart utilities like electricity grid, water, transport networks, surveillance and emergency services will be dependent on high speed broadband connectivity. Therefore, each utility needs to be connected and secured in order to realise the government’s vision of smart city development.

With increasing bandwidth consumption owing to the growing uptake of high speed data services and new-age broadband-consuming applications like Netflix, e-healthcare and surveillance, it has become crucial for the government to ensure network security. Data transmission through OFC has become the safest form of data communication, as it is extremely difficult to tap information because of the fact that fibre cables do not radiate signals. Even if the cable is tapped, it is easy to monitor as the cable leaks light, making it possible to detect breaches from a central location. Moreover, in case an attempt is made to break the physical security of the fibre system, the solution provider immediately gets notified about the attempt.

Further, OFC can provide extremely reliable data transmission owing to its strong resistance to many environmental factors that affect copper cables. The core of fibre networks is made of glass, which is an insulator, so no electric current can flow through it. It is immune to electrometric interference, radio frequency interference, crosstalk, impedance problems, etc. OFC is also less susceptible to temperature fluctuations as compared to copper. It can be submerged in water, and can thus be used for intercontinental connections and in submerged environments as well. With the evolution in technology, many innovations have also been made in OFC like making the network intrusion-proof and macro bend insensitive, and cap­able of sustaining robust communications in spite of fibre cuts. These fibre-based solutions are designed to create a highly secure network for critical applications like those of defence establishments. Intrusion-proof cables give a clear indication of where the cable may have been cut or tampered with. In case of a breakdown, the intrusion-proof system allows the data packet to shift seamlessly from one network to another.

An intrusion-proof network is being developed for the armed forces under the aegis of the NFS in Jammu & Kashmir. Under this, about 60,000 km of fibre will be laid to provide the army with a next-generation, secured fibre-based communication system, which will also free up defence spectrum for civilian use. The fibre-based network is designed for highly secure communication via the inner core and detection of intrusions in the outer layers, making the network more secure and robust.

Given the multiple benefits of optical fibre technology, its adoption rate by both the private and public sectors is likely to increase in the coming years. With fibre-to-the-home networks picking up pace in India, even individual users will be able to experience the advantages of this technology not only in terms of enhanced bandwidth for new-age applications but also by securing one’s network and making it less prone to cyberthreats.