With the emergence of new-age technologies such as 5G, internet of things, artificial intelligence (AI) and fibre-to-the-x (FTTx), telecom networks are on track to becoming open, intelligent, virtualised and secure. That said, telecom vendors are bracing up to cope with a multifold increase in fiberisation, and the need to power 5G services and address the rising demand for fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) broadband. STL is one such optical and digital solutions company providing advanced offerings for building 5G, rural, FTTx, enterprise and data centre networks. In an interview with tele.net, Manish Sinha, chief marketing officer, STL, shares his views on the key highlights for the company over the past year, its current focus areas and future growth plans…
What were STL’s key business and operational highlights during 2022? What are the current focus areas of the company in the Indian market?
Our strategy in 2022 included two levers – grow the optical business and strengthen the services business. We have allocated capital to take advantage of these levers’ potential for strategic growth.
We maintained our success in our target markets across the US, Europe and India thanks to our integrated value chain and optical capabilities. Both our cable facility in the US and our fibre manufacturing facility in China have started operating commercially and will aid STL in capturing additional demand. We will continue to prioritise growth areas, optimise our capital structure and execute with discipline through the fourth quarter of financial year 2023 and beyond. Most importantly – we will truly “live” our purpose through our strategy execution – transforming billions of lives by connecting the world. We realigned our portfolio in order to improve profitability and raise shareholder value, and we will keep doing so as needed.
In the optical space, in the nine months till December 2022, we had reached an estimated 12 per cent market share globally, minus the China market – up from 5 per cent in financial year 2020. In the services business, we are building a profitable order book by picking up projects in our India private segment.
We became the world’s first optical fibre and cable manufacturer to attain the Zero Waste to Landfill certificate for our Indian and overseas plants, and the Zero Liquid Discharge certification for all our India operations. This makes STL’s optical solutions some of the most sustainable across India and Europe.
What are the company’s key product offerings in the optical connectivity space? Are there any new products in the pipeline?
Telecom operators around the world are focusing heavily on technologies such as 5G and FTTx, which is fuelling demand for better performing networks that maximise return on capital spent. STL began investing in people, technology, processes and culture many years ago, anticipating the full potential of these megatrends. We have registered 742 patents in the past 10 years, encompassing optical connectivity, network services, and cloud-native fixed and wireless access solutions, due to our emphasis on research and development (R&D).
We have become a global innovator in the optical space by launching advanced optical products such as Celesta, high density new-age and innovative ribbon cables; Multiverse, India’s first multicore fibre and cable; and Optobolt, STL’s passive connectivity solution to support fibre deployment for global telcos, defence networks, citizen networks and other service providers. We also launched 5G Cosmos, which is an aatmanirbhar, patented solution that can connect every tower, small cell and node across villages.
Our global services business has reduced the time-to-install for such technologies, and enhanced the quality and reliability of communications network infrastructure deployment. From automated tools for soil surveys that employ AI to the digital transformation of telecom infrastructure, STL has developed a suite of technologies that have transformed a labour- and capital-intensive workflow.
What opportunities has the 5G roll-out opened up for STL in India? What new solutions or products have you launched to tap opportunities in the 5G space?
From 2022 to 2025, operators are predicted to invest more than $500 billion in 5G. FTTx (home, enterprise, etc.) is becoming widely used. The Indian government is also planning to connect all villages with BharatNet Phase 3. The speed of 5G deployments is increasing. The top two telcos in India are collectively rolling out about 3,500 sites per week. By 2024, both providers hope to have all of India covered.
We are playing a key role in 5G, FTTH and rural connectivity globally. We have joined forces with some of the top network creators in the world, including Airtel, BT, Cityfibre and Netomnia. Telcos will be able to provide their customers with an excellent 5G experience with our integrated and cutting-edge solutions. For instance, we have 5G Cosmos, a patented aatmanirbhar solution that can link every village tower, small cell and node.
The leadership across the major international telecom companies is unequivocal when it comes to the significance of fibre investments in the overall network build-out. For us, these are major opportunities. This will guarantee that optical fibre cable (OFC) consumption stays high and that the post-pandemic bounce endures.
What kind of project is STL working on in India? Are there any new projects/initiatives in the pipeline?
With orders exceeding Rs 5 billion, we have partnered with top Indian service providers to help them with their fibre roll-out plans across the country. We are also developing a modern optical network for another top service provider in India. A network modernisation project for an Indian public sector undertaking and the BharatNet project in Telangana are in progress as well.
Going forward, in our services business, we will focus on projects in our India private segment.
What are your growth plans and strategies for 2023?
We are sharpening our focus on the important areas of optical solutions and global services across a wider range of industries. The objective is to dig deeper into important areas to support profitable development and shareholder value, while steering our journey towards transforming billions of lives by connecting the world.
In terms of capital allocation, our clear priority is investments in the optical business. We are investing in OFC capacity expansion, optical interconnect expansion and new product development. We will be working on long-term contracts and projects that would enable us to protect our margins in the services business. We will continue to calibrate and realign our portfolio to enhance profitability and increase shareholder value. We have a tech-driven culture that welcomes change and we will continuously invest in R&D/product development. Our workforce is geographically spread, which will continue to contribute to our success in the global economy. Rather than focusing on incremental changes, our success is defined by transformation and disruption. We are in mission mode, wherein all STLers are united by collaboration, and a focus on execution and being more global.