With over a billion mobile phone connections and a teledensity of around 86 per cent, India is ranked among the largest telecom markets in the world. A billion eager consumers across the country have been swayed by the vision of 5G in India and its life-changing promises: ultra-fast connectivity with no latency, robust internet connectivity for everyone and applications such as internet of things (IoT), smart cars, smart industries, artificial intelligence and robotics. However, 5G networks are not just a game of deploying high frequency spectrum for telcos. A lot more needs to be done to ensure that 5G sees success in India – most prominently, fiberisation.
Challenges to fiberisation faced in India
Considering the data usage and proliferation trends, the importance of a robust network cannot be overstated. The level of fiberisation in data networks is a key factor in high performing networks and there is a pressing need for fast and cost-optimised roll-outs at this juncture. But large-scale fiberisation projects are not easy to execute because of:
- The multilayered and complex right-of-way (RoW) process
- Improper route surveys
- Unskilled manpower
- Lack of proper planning
- Legacy (largely manual) field operations
Moreover, the market is largely driven by unorganised players and the need for superfast roll-outs cannot be met until fibre roll-outs as a whole are reimagined. The number of network endpoints will surge due to increasing fibre-to-the-x penetration, 5G and IoT. All this will require deep fiberisation and high densification of the network. These fibre deployment challenges surely merit a new approach for achieving large-scale fiberisation. We need to have technology-enabled fibre roll-outs. Think about drones being used for route surveys and robotic technologies for the actual laying of fibre. Considering that we are sitting at the cusp of massive fiberisation, the time is apt for rethinking fibre roll-outs.
Fibre is perhaps the most scalable, secure and cost-effective option for transmitting large volumes of data, uninterrupted, for years. With data consumption in India poised to reach 109 million TB in 2022, faster fiberisation is the need of the hour. Therefore, in the next one year we can expect an accelerated rate of fiberisation to connect rural India to the upcoming 5G services. As per the National Broadband Mission, we can expect around 2 million km of optical fibre to be installed countrywide, covering 70 per cent of the nation’s towers by 2024.
Given the present spike in data traffic, telecom businesses are becoming increasingly aware of the need to expand the capacity of their existing networks. While current capacity per tower site is around 1 Gbps (for 2G/3G/4G services), the capacity requirements per site may increase to 10-20 Gbps if 5G is implemented. This necessitates a significant shift in the technologies used at these towers. 5G will go beyond traditional telecom and catalyse the digital transformation of a variety of different industry verticals, besides enabling enhanced mobile broadband for person-to-person applications, IoT and massive machine-to-machine communications.
Optical fibre will be used to connect 600,000 Indian communities, according to the Indian government. Various programmes and technologies have connected more than 150,000 gram panchayats in the last decade alone.
Initiatives such as BharatNet have effectively constructed and deployed robust infrastructure, which necessitates the use of fibre at the heart of connecting solutions.
Increased agricultural output, improved healthcare access, and, most crucially, education for all can be achieved by developing digital infrastructure and literacy at urban and rural levels. Faster fiberisation can connect the remotest areas of India, guaranteeing that no citizen or community is left behind in this digital era. Simultaneously, such efforts enable the rural population to be skilled and educated, increasing their employability and supporting local enterprises.
Fiberisation will make the “Digital India” dream come true
When compared to 4G, 5G’s low latency, high data speed and capacity to support up to 100 times the number of connected devices per area make it a massive gamble for businesses and many segments of society. The government should take the following steps to ensure faster fiberisation:
- Policymakers must recognise the importance of accelerating fibre roll-out through investments and incentives, including private sector participation.
- The government should create high-powered governing/advisory groups that can set the direction for fibre roll-out. Relevant ministries, provinces and leading industry CEOs can provide advice to support the expansion and remove bottlenecks.
- Strong coordination between the government and the private sector can help India’s digital progress by speeding up the delivery of vital infrastructure. The success of 5G in India will be determined by the fiberisation of towers, a clear RoW policy, acceptable spectrum pricing, and sufficient availability.
The potential of 5G in India is truly game changing. Once implemented, it would be able to support up to 1 million connected devices per square km, compared to just 2,000 per square km under 4G long term evolution. In fact, by 2035, the cumulative impact of 5G on the Indian economy could touch the $1 trillion mark.