Anand Bhaskar, MD, Service Providers Sales, Cisco India and SAARC

The Indian telecom landscape is undergoing a tectonic shift with the advent of new age technologies. Service providers today are focusing on transforming themselves into digital value providers and are looking for technology partners to achieve this goal. Cisco is playing a key role in enabling this transformation for telecom service providers. It is helping them build and shape their network, and create services and solutions suitable for the next-generation technology world. In a recent interview, Anand Bhaskar, managing director, service providers sales, Cisco India and SAARC, talks about the changing customer requirements, emerging technology trends, the evolving 5G ecosystem and Cisco’s focus areas. Excerpts…

How are the requirements of service providers changing?

Over the past few years, the telecom industry has transformed into a sector dominated by a few large players, involved in intense competition. As new technologies disrupt the market, the primary objectives of telecom service providers in this dynamic landscape are to reduce the cost per bit, offer data at the lowest possible cost and enhance the customer experience.

With the roll-out of 5G in the offing, service providers will also need to quickly adapt to an increasingly automated world. They need to transform themselves from digital service providers to digital value providers. 5G will help create a whole new set of services that are tailored for enterprises, and telecom service providers need to get ready to capture that market. We are working with telecom service providers to offer new solutions for enterprise clients around managed software defined wide area network (SD-WAN) services, managed collaboration services, and managed security services, among others. Moreover, with the convergence of 5G, AI and IoT, security is emerging as a major focus area. In a bid to build digital trust among their enterprise customers, telcos will have to protect their networks and offer security as a service to them. Providing security atop existing connectivity services will also help differentiate them in the marketplace.

How does India compare with other global markets in terms of network evolution? What are Cisco’s key focus areas in the Indian market?

Nations are racing ahead to develop next-generation networks and put in place architecture that will be necessary for 5G services. In parallel, there is an evident deceleration of revenue growth. Here, 5G can play an important role in filling the gap, giving rise to new opportunities and enabling service providers to be relevant. Cisco’s role is to help our service provider customers focus on growing revenue, lower their costs, and reduce or mitigate risks.

India is one of the fastest-growing data markets globally, and Cisco offers a strong value proposition to its customers here. We have a 360-degree strategy for service providers, which covers network and IT transformation and supports their enterprise go-to-market strategy with Cisco’s strong presence in the enterprise segment. We have a vast engineering team focused on service provider innovation in India. The team works closely with service providers to develop solutions for the Indian marketplace, which have later been scaled globally.

To summarise, Cisco partners with telecom service providers to build and shape their network, and create services and solutions that enable them to become a digital value player. This is a unique value proposition that Cisco offers to telecom service providers.

What opportunities do you foresee in the 5G space in India? How are you planning to leverage these?

India is digitalising at an unprecedented pace, faster than any other country. The prime minister has set an ambitious goal to make India a $5 trillion economy by 2025, and there is no doubt that digital transformation will be the key enabler and driver of India’s growth. In fact, the digital economy is expected to contribute 20 per cent of the national GDP, or $1 trillion, by 2025.

As digital capabilities improve and connectivity becomes omnipresent, technology is poised to rapidly and radically change nearly every sector of the Indian economy. In the telecom industry for example, it is predicted that, by 2030, more than 1 billion Indians will be online, and 839 million will be smartphone users. 5G and Wi-Fi6 are going to be paramount in ensuring the success of the digital economy and in bringing us closer to the $5 trillion goal. Unlike 4G, which was about speed, 5G is all about an enhanced customer experience, one that will change the game for telecom service providers. Recognising the criticality of 5G in differentiating themselves in a highly competitive market, all telecom service providers are planning trials in the next few quarters.

Cisco is the leading provider of the foundational networking technologies that power mobile networks around the world – be it 4G or 5G. We have committed $5 billion in funding globally to help build 5G networks over the next three years to aid our customers in accelerating their 5G deployments. Today, we are working with a number of them on architectural designs and providing packet core technology, and we expect to see a bigger impact from 5G as the number of users and devices begins to ramp up.

What are your views on the emerging connectivity needs of enterprises? What is Cisco’s strategy to meet these needs?

The networking field is changing fast. As 5G rolls out, it will also open up new possibilities for IoT applications for enterprises and specific industry use cases – connected factories, smart manufacturing, logistics and warehousing, among others. Cisco has been re-working the architecture of the network to help enterprises meet the challenges of automation and programmability, and has unveiled its intent-based networking portfolio to prepare customers for this wireless-first world. With a software-focused approach, the network unlocks data and insights that will enable IT to support the business in real time. It automates routine tasks and embeds security into the network itself.

We are helping our customers lead the charge by offering a 360-degree strategy focused on seamless network transformation, superlative IT services and a robust go-to-market strategy with service providers, thus building the right capabilities to remain relevant in a highly digitalised environment, achieve growth and fend off competitive threats.

All the leading service providers are banking on Cisco’s new age technologies such as software optimisation network (SON) and network automation platform. We are ideally placed to combine this technology with enterprise needs and drive monetisation for telecom service providers, which is vital.

As a leading technology provider, what kind of challenges do you face in the country?

As the telecom industry transforms into a digital value player, there will be a need to renew strategies for talent acquisition efforts to focus on creating new roles, generating more jobs and getting more investment into the sector in the process.

Next, legacy infrastructures are not suited for the needs of the new dynamic, application-driven environment, and currently all operators in India have either deployed or are working to gradually deploy a one-IP architecture and are getting their networks 5G-ready. We expect investment in 5G to be higher than what was invested by global wireless carriers for 4G deployment. This is because carriers need spectrum and deeper fibre networks, particularly in key urban markets, and substantially more cell towers to deliver the benefits of 5G.

Finally, a significant push is needed for the telecom industry to fiberise (which currently stands at only 20 per cent penetration), in order to avoid widening the rural-urban digital divide. Favourable taxation policies are already under discussion for 5G spectrum allocation, which aims to create a balanced spectrum ecosystem.

What are the three technology or related trends that are expected to shape the future Indian telecom space?

The most evident trend is mass-scale digital transformation. Automation is seeping into every aspect of life, and telcos need to adapt or risk losing market share. Service providers are, therefore, looking to move to a flat IP architecture to make their businesses more flexible and automation-ready.

The other important element of growth will come from edge computing, wherein the whole notion is to serve clients closer to the point of delivery, be it highly populated clusters, high commerce-enabling areas or metros, etc.

Lastly, operators worldwide are tasked with rolling out new services in shorter time intervals while ensuring adequate returns for their shareholders, and managing capex and operational costs. Hence, it becomes imperative for them to have a modern and programmable network, indicating a need to revamp their current network, and move to technology architectures that offer agility and better operational control while also ensuring the lowest possible cost of production. With a programmable architecture, service providers can continue to offer “first-rate” industry solutions and the best customer experience at the lowest cost per bit.

With Cisco technologies such as software-defined networking, network function virtualisation, SON, orchestration and cloud-based solutions, operators can make sure that their infrastructure is self-monitoring, self-correcting and self-acting, with optimal cost and efficiency.