Ciena, a US-based networking systems, services and software company, has considerably expanded its footprint in India in the past few years. It is witnessing significant traction in the Indian market with a buildout of next-generation networks by telecom operators. In an interview with, Rajesh Nambiar, chairman and president, Ciena India, talks about emerging trends in the telecom space, opportunities in 5G and the company’s growth strategies for the Indian market…

What is your vision and strategy for Ciena in your new role in India?

India is an integral part of Ciena’s business, and this is reflected in the growth of the company’s operations in India in the past several years. Now, the focus is on elevating the Ciena brand and achieving even faster growth in the market. We are striving to bring about a transformational change in our customer’s businesses and help them tap bigger opportunities. On the employee side, we are focusing on strengthening our talent base and integrating the right hiring policy frameworks. As we continue to compete with big players in the market, we need to keep hiring the best and brightest talent supporting our customers. Further, in order to engage with the overall ecosystem in India, we are collaborating with the appropriate government and industry organisations to have a say in policy structuring.

What are the trends shaping the Indian telecom industry?

Data consumption by Indian citizens is growing at a rapid pace. The country’s monthly data uptake stands at 9 GB at present and is expected to go up to 15 GB in 2024. This rise in data consumption will put a lot of stress on networks, which will give rise to the concept of adaptive networks in which infrastructure is programmable and can be controlled through automated software. Another major trend is the shift from hardware-centric to software-centric systems, enabling virtualisation and automation as well as machine learning.

What are some of the opportunities that you see in the 5G space?

Mobile connectivity in India is growing at a breakneck speed with more consumers turning to video and other forms of mobile content. 5G will put a lot of pressure on networks and much higher bandwidths will be required. With the upcoming spectrum auctions, we need to find relevant use cases for subscribers. Ciena is playing a key role in India’s 5G ecosystem. Our 5G network solutions are designed to provide the scale and automation needed by network operators for delivering a superior end-to-end user experience.

What are the key issues facing the industry?

There are several challenges. First, the rising number of increasingly powerful mobile devices, along with the growing use of social networks and online video services, is driving service providers to come up with new ways to meet the data demand in an efficient and cost-effective manner. For example, the recent introduction of low-cost 4G phones in India is accelerating the phasing out of 2G and 3G networks. Second, emerging technologies such as 5G, IoT, AI and big data are putting pressure on networks. To survive in today’s competitive environment, companies need to deliver superior customer experiences and back them up with relevant technology.

How do you see Ciena’s growth unfold in the coming years?

Demand for wireless mobile broadband will continue to be a growth driver for us in India. Wireless broadband subscribers more than doubled in two years, from 200 million in 2016 to 493 million in 2018, according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. Driven by a rise in affordable smartphones and a drop in broadband tariffs, the consumption of mobile data is rapidly increasing. The expansion of 4G into rural areas across India is also driving data consumption. Pushing the demand for broadband is video content, as users are flocking to WhatsApp and YouTube for entertainment. Network operators are using advanced software to help make their networks more adaptable. To keep up with today’s dynamic, on-demand services, they are using automation software to modernise their IT and network operations to facilitate digital transformation. In my new role as chairman and president of Ciena India, I will be responsible for accelerating the company’s growth in the country. My primary focus areas in the near term include accelerating business growth, building relationships with key government and industry associations,  strengthening employee engagement and positioning Ciena as the best employer in India.

What is your outlook for the telecom industry?

I believe that as an industry we will start focusing more on the customer experience. However, delivering a high quality of service comes at a cost. This is a big challenge for telcos, as currently they lack the ability to increase ARPU levels due to competition. Going forward, this will need to change so that telcos can offer premium services at higher prices, which will translate into technology investments. We are expecting to see market segmentation, wherein you will see low-end users getting basic services at low costs, while high-end users will be able to access better services by paying a premium.