Vodafone Idea Limited is on the fast track to integrate two pan-Indian networks to leverage synergies in operations, spectrum and network capacity. At the same time, it is focusing on the deployment of advanced and robust technologies such as massive MIMO, radio technology, cloud networks, software-defined networking (SDN) and analytics to make the integrated network scalable and future ready. We have stayed focused on enhancing our customer experience through technology deployments. In an interview with tele.net, Vishant Vora, chief technology officer, Vodafone Idea Limited, shares his views on new network technologies, merger synergies, the evolving technology landscape, the uptake of 4G services and the future of 5G in India…

What is the progress on network integration across circles?

Vodafone Idea has undertaken the world’s largest network integration in India through meticulous planning and rigorous implementation. We have partnered with the best in the industry to build a robust, future-fit network.

The integration is progressing at a fast pace with the network present in over 76 per cent of the districts in the country already consolidated. With 31 out of the top 50 cities and 13 circles fully integrated, the company is well on track to complete pan-Indian integration by June 2020, much ahead of the guidance given at the time of merger.

What are the technological synergies that you have realised from the integration? What have been the key challenges in the process?

We have realised synergies in several areas of network operations and spectrum. Through the deployment of latest technologies such as dynamic spectrum refarming (DSR), we have managed to consolidate the spectrum and use it more efficiently. This has resulted in capacity enhancement.

The redeployment of sites/equipment has led to coverage enhancement for both Vodafone and Idea customers on a pan-Indian level. Vodafone Idea’s 4G coverage now reaches 852 million population, with coverage enhancement for both brands – 484 million for Vodafone and 593 million for Idea Cellular.

Speeds have increased by 50 per cent since the time of merger in many of these markets. Vodafone Idea customers are getting faster download and upload speeds and this has also been verified by Ookla in many markets.

With the consolidation of the network, we have added more sites and this has resulted in coverage enhancement. However, the optimisation of the new network grid is required for adequate coverage. Consolidation has also led to a substantial reduction in network and IT costs.

What role is technology deployment playing in enhancing the customer experience? What are some of the advanced technologies that you have deployed or are in the process of deploying?

Vodafone Idea is pushing technology frontiers by embedding key 5G principles and technologies in state-of-the-art 4G+ deployments. Some examples are massive MIMO deployments, small cells and DSRs that are bringing spectral efficiencies. Vodafone Idea has the second-largest deployment of massive MIMO in the world. We are also an early mover in deploying cloud technology and have the largest deployment of Edge cloud in the world. Vodafone Idea delivers a low latency experience throughout the country and intends to carry forward its leadership in this space.

We are the first operator in the telecom space to use a common cloud across network and IT applications. We also have multiple key network applications hosted on a common cloud. These will be live with 100+ Edge cloud locations across the country.

We have substantially improved our roll-out capabilities and our average rollout is over 10,000 per month over the past six months.

Vodafone Idea has partnered with global technology leaders to deploy latest technologies in India. In the integrated markets, where we have deployed these technologies, we have been able to provide a better network experience to our customers.

How is virtualisation being explored by telcos? What is Vodafone Idea’s strategy on this front? 

We started our cloud journey in 2012 and have invested heavily in cloudification. Vodafone Idea is the first operator in the world to allow voice and data calls with application hosted on a public cloud. All our new age applications are being deployed on the cloud.

What is your outlook on the adoption of Edge computing in India?

Edge computing will become a critical part of the digital ecosystem. With the advancement in the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence and smart city initiatives, the adoption of Edge computing is expected to pick up speed. Vodafone Idea has the largest number of Edge cloud deployments in the country. We believe that distributed Edge computing is critical to achieve ultra-low latency services.

How is Vodafone Idea gearing up for 5G service provisioning? What is your view on the overall market readiness for 5G in India? What timeline do you foresee for 5G service launch in the country?

We are an early mover in cloud deployment with the largest deployment of Edge cloud globally. In terms of latency improvements, Vodafone Idea has the lowest latencies in the market today due to superior architecture and execution in deploying the TX and core network in line with the 5G design principles.

There is a need to reap the benefits of 5G through the deployment and exploitation of 4G first. There is also a need and challenge to crystallise and facilitate new business ecosystems enabled by this thought process. Telecom operators have a vital role to play in bringing enterprises and industry verticals together to deliver not just connectivity, but also solutions.

What is your outlook for 2G, 3G, and 4G services in the medium- and long-term? What are Vodafone Idea’s plans in this regard?

Vodafone Idea is widely using DSR technology for the efficient use of spectrum across different technologies (2G, 3G and 4G) to enhance capacity and the customer experience. We believe that 2G and 3G will continue to exist in India, considering the user demand.

In addition, we are rolling out TurboNet 4G in the integrated markets. TurboNet 4G builds on the combined strength of the integrated network resulting in a better experience – increased 4G coverage, more capacity, turbo speed and lower latency. It is a higher-powered, super charged 4G network with larger number of sites, deployment of future-fit technologies and greater spectrum allocation.

Our 4G network has been expanded to cover the 852 million population in India. 4G will further proliferate in the country as telecom operators continue to invest in the technology.

Going forward, what kind of technology deployment-related focus areas do you have for the company?

Our focus will be on:

  • Cloudification and network virtualisation
  • C-RAN/Open RAN
  • Het net deployment with small cells and femto cells, etc.
  • IoT deployments
  • Core and transport slicing

What are some of the key telecom technology trends that will shape the Indian telecom sector?

  • Premium content and cross-industry alliances: Vodafone Idea will stay focused on co-creating value for its customers and partners
  • Early adoption of 5G technologies in 4G to create a strong 4G+ network
  • Cloud-based architecture
  • Wide deployment of machine learning
  • Data science application throughout the technology domain
  • Edge computing
  • Digital customer experience
  • Data privacy and cybersecurity
  • Open telco systems/solutions s