A. Seshagiri Rao, chairman and managing director, TCIL

State-run Telecommunications Consultants India Limited (TCIL) provides consultancy and turnkey project execution services in the telecom, IT and civil infrastructure sectors. Over the years, the company has undertaken several domestic and international projects, and expanded its footprint in new markets. In India, TCIL is at the forefront of helping the government in driving its Digital India initiative. It is playing a key role in expanding broadband to the rural areas, besides connecting the unconnected Indian population and making rural areas broadband-enabled. Internationally, TCIL has been facilitating a pan-African e-network project used for providing teleeducation and telemedicine in African countries. Recently, it received cabinet approval to set up a subsidiary in the US for executing projects in that country, including Google’s fibre-to-the-premises project. In an interview with tele.net, A. Seshagiri Rao, chairman and managing director, TCIL, discusses the company’s focus areas, current projects, challenges and plans going forward…

How has the company performed over the past year? What have been some of the key achievements?

TCIL, the only profit-making public sector unit under the Department of Telecommu­nications (DoT), has been growing steadily despite the slump in the overall telecom market in India. We remained profitable and marginally increased our turnover by Rs 600 million as compared to the previous year. We are close to a Rs 12.6 billion turn­over on a stand-alone basis. So far this year, TCIL has participated in several projects of Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL), the digital initiative of the Gov­ern­­ment of India. We have successfully executed several projects in India and abroad, in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Myanmar. We have also received cabinet approval for forming a subsidiary unit of TCIL in the US.

“India’s ability to achieve a robust spread of fibre-based infrastructure will determine the level of adoption of 5G services.”

What are the key focus areas for TCIL?

TCIL is a premier telecommunication con­­sultancy and project execution and engineering company.  Telecom, IT and in­­frastructure management are at the heart of our operations. With the government’s focus on Digital India, TCIL is actively involved in consultancy projects under BBNL that are aimed at connecting the unconnected, submarine projects of the Andaman and Lakshadweep islands, and satellite connectivity projects in the Northeast and Jammu & Kashmir.

TCIL is playing a leading role in the execution of various projects under BBNL. On the ICT front, internet of things (IoT) and smart cities are other focus areas where TCIL is actively participating. ICT@ schools is another focus area. We have successfully implemented projects in several states including Delhi, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh. We are now focusing on new areas like artificial intelligence (AI) and cybersecurity. Also, having successfully completed and maintained telemedicine and teleeducation projects for seven years across various African countries, we are now working on building a state-of-the-art, internet-based model in these countries.

What role does the company play in rolling out telecom services in rural areas?

As explained earlier, TCIL is doing various consultancy projects for DoT for connecting the unconnected. The detailed project report for BharatNet to provide broadband connectivity to the rural areas was prepared by TCIL. All modes of communication such as underground/aerial fibre, microwave and satellite have been explored. In fact, TCIL has been working closely with governments, in India and abroad, on FTTH projects. The company has earned and successfully executed such projects not only in India but also in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Another flagship project for TCIL is the one it completed for the Department of Posts in the rural areas. TCIL provided point-of-sale devices, scanners and connectivity, thus enabling rural ICT solutions in 130,000 extended post offices under 440 divisional offices. This will play a key role in facilitating the financial inclusion of the rural masses.

TCIL recently set up a subsidiary, C Corpo­ration, in the US. What is the progress on that front?

The cabinet had approved the formation of TCIL’s subsidiary in the US for carrying out various projects including the Google Fiber project. In this context, we undertook a visit to explore the ICT opportunities available in various states. The visit was very promising with 5G roll-outs being carried out by AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile. We will be starting our operations in a couple of months.

What trends do you foresee in the optic fibre cable (OFC) market? What role is TCIL playing in this space?

We are only scratching the surface right now as far as OFC deployment in India is concerned. There exists immense unexplored potential in this segment. Fibre penetration can make a massive difference to sectors like education, healthcare, defence and entertainment. All government-to-citizen services too can ride on this medium. Currently, we are developing a state-of-the-art experience centre at our office, which can be accessed by all government IT secretaries and other decision-makers. TCIL will help the government in achieving its Digital India vision.

“We are only scratching the surface right now as far as OFC deployment is concerned. There exists immense, unexplored potential in this segment. Fibre penetration can make a massive difference.”

What technology trends do you foresee in the sector? What role will emerging technologies play in the next few years?

Technology today  is developing very rapidly, with innovations taking place every day in different parts of the world. At a broader level, technologies like IoT, blockchain, machine to machine, big data, augmented reality/ virtual reality and AI have the po­­t­­e­n­tial to shape the future. Companies ac­­ross sectors understand the benefits of deploying these technologies and are im­­ple­­m­e­nting them to come up with better servi­ces and offerings. It is inspiring to see how several e-commerce companies have brilliantly used big data, AI and IoT to offer an en­­h­an­ced experience to their customers. Going forward, these technologies will have the potential to be helpful in ways that may be difficult to imagine at this point in time.

How would you describe India’s readiness to adopt 5G technology?

India is still in the process of upgrading from 3G to 4G. Moving up to 5G would require a rapid transformation, particularly on the infrastructure side. The country’s ability to achieve a robust spread of fibre-based infrastructure will determine the level of adoption of 5G services. Having missed the timelines for 3G and 4G, India wants to be ahead in the race for 5G. The new National Digital Communication Policy, 2018, focuses on IoT and 5G connectivity in a big way. The whole country is gearing up for 5G, however, a lot needs to be done on the infrastructure front.

What role will renewable energy sources play in the telecom sector? How is TCIL engaging in this space?

The telecom sector is a crucial driver of economic and social growth and the change that it can introduce will reflect ac­ross several areas. Sustainable solutions like renewable energy have the potential to not only ensure energy efficiency in the telecom sector, but to also help other in­dustries in reducing their carbon footprint. TCIL, in its consultancy projects, clearly brought out the use of solar for roll-outs in the mobile sector.

What are the key challenges facing TCIL?

Telecom as a whole is a highly stressed market. Even though consolidation is taking place amongst the few operators that are left in the market, the competition has increased significantly. Gone are the days when projects were executed by TCIL on a nomination basis. Now we need to compete and emerge as the lowest bidder. The major challenge is that we are only system integrators and not original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of fibre and equipment. This puts an additional burden on costing as OEMs also participate in executing projects. The margins are becoming very thin in projects.

What are the company’s investment and operational plans for 2018-19?

We are a consultancy and project-based company. We are not into manufacturing. Hence, our focus is limited to the viability of the projects that we take up. TCIL with its skilled manpower is concentrating on value addition to each project through direct contribution to all projects. The major projects under Bharat­Net and defen­ce, and other government projects will require cash flows running into multi-billion rupees and we are gearing up for the same. We want to increase the turn­over of the company from the present Rs 15 billion to Rs 50 billion in the next few years.