Dhananjay Joshi, managing director and chief executive officer, Summit Digitel

During the past year, Summit Digitel continued to grow while enabling a swift transition to a 5G. The company is now focused on devising solutions such as small cells-as-a-service that can go a long way in supporting multiple 5G-based use cases. In an interview with tele.net, Dhananjay Joshi, managing director and chief executive officer, Summit Digitel, talks about the role of towercos in enabling 5G, the company’s operational and business highlights during 2022, and its future plans…

How is the role of towercos evolving to serve 5G network requirements? What initiatives has the company undertaken to support the roll-out of 5G?

Digital technology is undergoing a major transformation with 5G. In addition to inc­reasing the ability to handle the ever-inc­re­asing data requirements, the increa­sed speed and capacity it brings will have a positive impact on India. Business, agriculture and many other sectors will benefit from the new, brighter opportunities. As far as nationwide deployment of 5G infrastructure is concerned, we are capable of do­ing it. At Summit, we are constantly st­riving to upgrade our systems and facilities at different sites in the country as a necessary part of our ongoing preparation for the arrival of the 5G era. This will ensure a seamless transition to the latest technology.

As part of our commitment to introdu­cing a complete range of solutions for ope­rators in the coming years, we intend to ma­ke small cell infrastructure solutions av­ailable at cost-effective rates in the short term. We are exploring opportunities to offer 5G small cells as a service. Additi­o­nally, we are constantly striving to improve our uptime, leverage our existing streng­ths, focus on faster roll-outs of towers, and upscale our network grid for high-end frequency suitable for 4G and 5G.

With our advanced infrastructure and a wide range of technologies, we are more than capable of taking up additional load on our sites to support the 5G roll-out and enhance its performance. Our comprehensive portfolio, coupled with young, modern infrastructure and complemented by our capabilities to provide seamless, fast co­nnectivity, will help the Digital India dream become a reality.

We are supporting various governme­nt initiatives with our future-ready infrastructure. Summit Digitel’s vision of sharing happiness by enabling connections is completely aligned with the national aspiration of a Digital India.

There has been a rapid spread of wireless services throughout the country over the last decade, with the infrastructure ba­ckbone being provided by tower companies. To support the evolution of 4G technology, all the necessary infrastructure has been put in place. With the impending roll-out of 5G, this trend is expected to continue in the future as well. In res­po­n­se to the fluctuations in energy prices that are directly impacting business operations, tower companies are exploring opportunities to implement internet of things (IoT) and fixed energy models. IoT can lower capex as well as enable quicker and more stable, sustainable and secure connectivity.

5G also presents an opportunity for the mobile industry to improve their service and network security stance. This can be done through modernised subscriber identity protection, new capabilities in authentication and new security postures that will lead to a more effective and robust security protocol as compared to legacy infrastructures. I see 5G as a tool that can open the network to a larger set of services. 5G at its core will come with multiple built-in security controls, which will better protect mobile networks and consumers.

Overall, Summit Digitel appears to be on track to continue its growth story of the last two years. This momentum can be at­tributed to underlying business require­me­­nts and a robust demand-driven telecom growth environment.

Summit Digitel has partnered with all major wireless operators in its tower infrastructure roll-out. How do you expect such partnerships to synergise? How can these partnerships benefit you?

Having partnered with all four major mobile operators since its inception, Su­mmit Digitel has come a long way. With Jio as anchor tenant, we have signed a ma­ster service agreement with the three other major players that will continue to play an essential role in this sector for ye­ars to come. The Indian telecommunications industry has benefited greatly from Jio’s and Airtel’s leadership as the first In­dian mobile network operators to deploy 5G services.

The partnership with all four mobile network operators has positioned Sum­mit as a leader in the industry. Our symbiotic growth and progress are dependent on building strong relationships with our partners. Having delivered en­han­ced network performance, and continued customer engagement across the country, we have been able to strengthen our working relationship and build trust with our customers.

What are the potential challenges (policy, regulatory, others) that telecom infrastructure providers may face over the next three years? How can they be tackled?

In order to realise the vision of a Digital In­dia, a strong telecom sector is imperative. Bringing digital services to the hands of ev­ery individual is possible with the help of telecommunications. My outlook for the Indian telecom tower industry is positive. The tower market in India is projected to grow at an over 6 per cent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) through 2024 until 2026, driven by mobile subscriptions and fixed broadband subscriptions.

A closer look at the industry from a strategic standpoint may allow us to strategise and capitalise on the upcoming data explosion. Fibre and small cells can be de­ployed by towercos by shifting from capex to opex. To cope with increasing market and financial pressures, companies around the world have begun to look at structurally separating active network elements from a shared digital infrastructure provider.

To diversify our revenue stream, we would also like to examine revenue sources other than towers. India has the opportunity to increase the number of fibre optic towers – this can lead to an increase in the number of tenancy opportunities in the future as well. For effective street coverage, smart ultra-light sites must be established and installed on city infrastructure in conjunction with local governments. Furthermore, we are optimistic about new government policies that will facilitate the sharing of infrastructure resources, such as the creation of a National Fibre Authority.

To realise all this, government efforts are imperative, and I am happy to say that we have seen significant positive strides in this direction. For instance, the Gati Sha­kti portal, a digital platform that will bring sixteen ministries together for integrated pl­anning and implementation of infrastructure projects, will make way for faster and more efficient construction and app­rovals. This, in turn, will further improve the ease of doing business, and we will gradually begin to see its positive effects in the form of robust telecom infrastructure.

What is your outlook for the Indian telecom tower industry in 2023? What will be the three key trends in this domain?

In 2022, the Indian telecom industry un­der­went a major transformation, as 5G services were finally launched in the country.

With Jio and Airtel implementing 5G and Vodafone Idea Limited (Vi) and Bha­rat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) joining the bandwagon in 2023, it will be in­teresting to see how 5G adoption accelerates across the country. The manufacturing, healthcare, education, and gaming ve­rticals are likely to be the leading users of 5G in 2023, with manufacturing being the most prominent vertical.

Connectivity at the last mile is essential for the realisation of the Digital India visi­on. No matter where an individual is located in India, they must have fast, uninterru­pted connectivity to be able to realise their full potential. Whether one is a student, a working professional, or even a stay-at-ho­me parent, their access to the internet will be crucial in the years to come. To make this a reality, fiberisation of towers and fu­ture-readiness for artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), IoT, etc., will be necessary.

In the early months of 2023, the government is scheduled to release the second draft of the Telecom Bill, 2022, which is also known as the Telecom Bill, 2022. A revised draft should incorporate stakeholder-expanded definitions of telecommunications services. Satellite communications sp­ectrum will likely be auctioned India for the first time the Telecom Regu­la­tory Autho­rity of India. Possibly by end-2023, satellite communications and internet services co­uld be launched in India following auctions in mid-2023. Providing in­ternet services to remote areas via bro­adband or mobile networks will be made possible by satellite internet.

As a result of accelerated roll-out of 5G services and a robust framework for the future, the Indian telecom industry is expected to experience a strong 2023.

What are the new growth drivers and opportunities that you are looking at in the coming year?

5G holds immense promise across industries, especially those that rely heavily on data. It is expected that hospitals, banks and technology companies will be able to move enormous amounts of information in real time with a robust 5G network in place. Technology is enabling organisatio­ns to simplify their infrastructure, manage onboarding and backhaul systems seamlessly and cost effectively, and derive in­sights from systems and security data – which is crucial to the future of mobility.

On the healthcare front, digital therapeutics will enable diagnosis, predictions, follow-ups and patient monitoring. 5G will also allow for the increased adoption of clo­ud computing. For manufacturers, IoT-driven data and analytics will drive smart strategy in the coming years. The applications of data and analytics range across manufacturing, automobiles, fintech, encryption, ro­botics, IoT, AI, ML, enterprise resource planning, augmented reality, predictive mai­ntenance, near-field communications and many more.

We could even see government servi­ces suddenly becoming more agile and responsive with their daily activities due to the intervention of 5G services.