The telecom arm of Indian Railways, RailTel was set up in 2000 to manage all its telecom assets, including optical fibre. This step was taken to modernise train operations and safety systems throu­gh a state-of-the-art communication network infrastructure. RailTel exclusively owns the right of way (RoW) along all the railway routes and land.

Current network

RailTel’s optical fibre cable (OFC) network currently covers over 6,108 stations as points of presence where the local cable operators (LCOs) connect and offer fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) services to home broadband networks. The company has collaborated with over 9,000 LCOs, which provide internet access along with fibre strength. This model has proven to be quite effective as it is now being adopted by other organisations as well. RailTel’s backbone network covers over 61,000 km, and the total access network spans over 21,000 km. It passes through areas with a population density of over 70 per cent.

Network usage

RailTel has connected over 16,000 villages with FTTH broadband. In ter­ms of data consumption, rural and semi-urban areas exhibit a higher data consumption pattern compared to urban areas, with over 53 per cent of the FTTH connections available in these regions. Out of these, ­Ra­il­­Tel acco­unts for over 10 per cent. Ho­w­ever, there is a need for the towers to be fiberised as the network speed is governed by backhaul. The company is looking to collaborate with different operators to im­­prove the conditions of existing towers and simultaneously expand its OFC network.

Currently, the average monthly data consumption recorded at stations is over 4,500 TB, which translates into an average data consumption of 82 MB per person. With the increase in the number of unique customers every day, the company is collaborating with consortiums to cater to this demand. The primary goal is to improve customer retention and to ensure ease of access for everyone.

Monetising the network

The main purpose of monetising the OFC network for RailTel is to proliferate internet usage through various means such as increasing the adoption of mobile data, wired broadband and Wi-Fi. RailTel’s public Wi-Fi is one of the largest seamless public Wi-Fi networks in the world. It caters to 1.8-1.9 million unique users per day. The primary objective is to make the internet more affordable and accessible for those who never had access to it.

The company is making efforts to monetise the footfall at its stations. Despite the daily footfall on railways being close to 23 million, the number of network connections is only around 1.9 million, which constitutes less than 10 per cent of train travellers. The company is working on launching an app through a consortium partnership. The app aims to offer various infotainment services, along with digital and video advertisements. Additionally, it will offer e-ticketing services, various passenger name record enquiries and over-the-top service packs starting at Rs 5 or Rs 10.

Future plans

Going forward, RailTel is in talks with various metros, airway authorities and str­eet grids to expand its OFC network. The reason for this initiative is that most me­tros have a surplus of highly underutilised fibre assets. For instance, RailTel recently pa­rtnered with Orissa PowerTel, which has an OFC network spread over 2,100 km across the state. In the future, the co­mpany aims to leverage these scattered assets across the country to streng­th­en its existing OFC network.

In terms of dark fibre, RailTel initially offered dark fibre access to mobile service providers and cable service providers in order to monetise its OFC network. However, the organisation is now planning to offer its dark fibre to internet service providers and telecom operators. This move will enable the company to establish a mutually beneficial model, providing access to its OFC network even to competitors, while also giving it access to their network infrastructure.

Based on a presentation by Manoj Tandon, Director – Project, Operations & Maintenance, RailTel