Yugal Kishore Sharma, CEO, ONEOTT iNTERTAINMNET Limited (OIL)

Fixed line players have emerged as a lifeline for many companies and individuals in these unprecedented times. Robust and high-speed internet networks are playing a key role in ensuring business continuity in the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown. Yugal Kishore Sharma, chief executive officer, ONEOTT iNTERTAINMNET Limited (OIL) talks about how the company is managing this huge surge in data uptake and the measures that are being undertaken to continue business as usual despite the lockdown…

How is the ongoing COVID-19 crisis impacting the fixed broadband market in India?

Ever since the COVID-19 crisis began, there has been a surge in data consumption as more people are working from home. Today, a normal day starts with home users watching fitness, yoga and workout videos in the morning, then using video-collaboration tools to connect with their colleagues to kick-off their workday. Wherever kids are there in the house, parents are also busy helping them with online classes and various e-learning portals. In the evening, much of the time is spent on web browsing, gaming or e-sports. Also, social media remains a constant window to the outside world. Video calls have become the first preference as a means of communication for many, in these times of social distancing.

Clearly, the crisis has resulted in making fixed-line broadband players the lifeline of the lockdown in these unprecedented times. Almost all the internet service providers (ISPs), including ONEOTT iNTERTAINMENT Limited, are willing to serve their customers as they realise the power of a robust, wired high-speed internet.

How has the pandemic impacted your business?

As the internet connectivity falls under essential services, our key staff in the network operations centre (NOC) and field operations as well as customer care departments remain available to resolve customer complaints and problems. We are confident of ensuring connectivity to our customers even with scaled-down operations and are dealing with this crisis by innovating and redefining customer-facing processes. While working from home, FTTH (fibre-to-the-home) customers can choose to double their speed at a nominal amount via online channels in order to meet their increased bandwidth requirements.

How are you dealing with the surging data uptake on your network? What measures have been undertaken?

We had foreseen the demand since January and had, accordingly, initiated an efficient bandwidth optimisation planning. We knew a lockdown will bring in huge spikes in internet traffic across all cities and had appropriately planned to immediately upgrade our upstream internet bandwidth to meet the sudden increase in demand. On the backhaul side, we have our own in-house city-wide coverage capacity, which we have upgraded through fibre networks. On the access side too, we have added capacities. We have upgraded our 10 Gbps redundant alternate route capacities to 40 Gbps for ensuring that there is no bottleneck or any choking point due to disproportionate usage at the access network layer.

What are some of the key emerging trends across data consumption in India?

Video obviously is ruling the data consumption. Video streaming subscriptions have crossed the number of traditional cable subscriptions in the country. Some of the largest over-the-top (OTT) players like Netflix, Amazon, MXPlayer and Hotstar have been seeding the market for the last two to three years and the same has now paid off. The lockdown has led to OTT services’ penetration shifting from early adopters, the more digitally savvy population, to the middle class.

Three years back, OIL had coined a term iNTERTAINMENT, meaning the future of entertainment powered on internet connectivity. It has now become a reality.

OTT subscriptions are already reporting a 20 per cent increase in viewership, mostly coming in from Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, which have a robust wired-internet availability. People, who were earlier averse to consuming content via OTT networks, are now open to trying these as lockdown continues. There will be a surge in demand for more content in regional languages as new audiences come on-board these platforms.

What are the key challenges? How are you addressing them?

Most of the societies and resident welfare associations, where OIL’s network access nodes are located, have denied entry to our field technical teams and this has impacted our overall network availability and service assurance. A major blow also came when the premises where our contact centre for voice and web support services had to be temporarily shut down. But we were able to address these issues by providing infrastructure support such as desktop terminals and headphones, as well as centrally managed contact centre software to enable our care executives to operate from their homes.

ISPs are transforming the way of working to keep people connected and online. While the actions taken by healthcare and other essential services are appreciated, it is important to recognise the service of internet service warriors too.

What are your future plans in terms of service expansion, investments and new focus areas?

OIL plans to consolidate its operations and work on partnerships with the last mile local cable operators spread across 1,500 cities. In the past, we have grown inorganically through collaborative merged operations with smaller ISPs as it brings in cost efficiencies and operational synergies of city-wide coverage and capacities, and bandwidth management.