A.K. Arora, Chief Operating Officer (Telecom), POWERGRID

Over the years, Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (POWERGRID) has positioned itself as a key player in the telecom domain. The revenue from the vertical has grown consistently on the back of its diversified offerings, as well as utilisation of its optic fibre cable (OFC) network strength. Going forward, the company plans to tap business opportunities in the tower co-location and data centre space, both of which will open up new avenues of revenues. A.K. Arora, chief operating officer (Telecom), POWERGRID, talks about the company’s focus areas and growth opportunities…

How has been the company’s journey in the Indian telecom sector?

POWERGRID, a Maharatna public sector undertaking, is the Central Transmission Utility of India and one of the largest transmission utilities in the world. It has diversified its business into telecommunications as a telecom infrastructure and service provider, owing to its pan-India OFC network on exclusive right of way on its extra high voltage (EHV) transmission lines. Subsequently, the company acquired Unified Licence with the service authorisation of national long distance services and internet service provider (ISP) Category A, along with IP-I registration with the Department of Telecommunications.

As a part of the telecom business, we provide services to telecom operators, ISPs, multiple system operators, enterprises, banks, government institutions and departments, educational institutions/ universities, and many more. We also offered the domestic leg of international connectivity to Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh up to the Indian border to international long distance (ILD) licensees.

What are the key focus areas of your telecom business?

POWERGRID provides nationwide services such as managed leased lines, internet leased lines, tower co-location, MPLS-based IP-VPN, etc., in all parts of the country through its pan-India high capacity network.

  • Leased line: The connectivity between two locations is provided through leased lines of different capacities ranging from 2 Mbps to multiples of 100 Gbps with scalable network infrastructure and a competitive price. The network is managed and proactively monitored by 24×7 network operation centres at New Delhi, with disaster recovery in Bengaluru.
  • Internet leased line: We provide dedicated and uncompressed internet leased line services to the enterprise sector and various ISPs, and educational and other institutions. Our network is directly peered with major content providers such as Amazon, Extreme, Facebook, Google and NIXI, for faster access to content. It also has access to international gateways at Mumbai and Chennai for assuring traffic routing at Transatlantic and trans-Pacific paths.
  • MPLS-based IP-VPN: The company provides MPLS-based Layer 2 and Layer 3 networks on a secure backbone, separate from the one catering to the internet service. It has a core layer on 100G capacity with a three-tier architecture to support various IP-enabled services that are highly reliable and resilient, which enables enterprise customers such as PSUs, SMEs, educational institutions, banks and government organisations to enhance their business performance.
  • SD-WAN, DDoS and DNS: The company has on-premises managed DDoS mitigation cloud, providing services such as DDoS clean pipe, detection-only services, detection plus mitigation services, managed DDoS and in-depth reporting, which include attack and protected traffic through a user portal to customers.
  • Telecom infrastructure provider: The company provides underground dark fibre, rack space, co-location, cross-connect facilities with world-class facilities and uninterrupted power supply as per industry best practices.

What is the current strength of POWERGRID’s OFC network?

POWERGRID is the only telecom service provider in the country with the most reliable pan-India overhead OFC network on its EHV transmission lines, insulated from cuts, rodent menace and vandalism.

We have created over 67,000 km of OFC network, connecting over 1,000 locations across the country that carry traffic in multiples of 10G/100G in rings. Our OFC network covers all important towns and cities of the country, along with the hilly and difficult terrains of Jammu & Kashmir and the North-eastern region.

How is the company contributing to the Digital India and BharatNet projects?

POWERGRID, with its rich experience in the telecom sector, has been selected for the implementation of various mission-mode government projects in the field of telecom. Under such initiatives, the company is rolling out the National Knowledge Network (NKN), the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN), and Wi-Fi projects at Mumbai and Pune railway stations.

  • NKN: The company has been entrusted with the responsibility of one of the implementing partners of the network by providing high capacity bandwidth pipes for the NKN. The project envisages connecting all higher centres of learning and research by bringing together all stakeholders from science, technology, higher education, healthcare, agriculture and governance on a common platform. Till now, 615 institutions have been connected through a reliable network under the NKN and 130 institutions under the National Informatics Centre Network (NICNET) project throughout the country.
  • NOFN: To improve governance and service delivery at panchayats through increased efficiency, accountability and transparency, and to promote decentralised decision-making, the government has agreed to create an OFC-based broadband infrastructure for all panchayats across the country. For this purpose, a new central PSU, Bharat Broadband Network Limited, has been created, which shall take up the work of NOFN implementation as well as own the entire network. The company has been selected as one of the implementing partners (along with Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited and RailTel) to lay the incremental OFC network to connect gram panchayats and has been allotted five states (Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand and Odisha) comprising 10,838 gram panchayats under Phase I.
  • Railway Station Wi-Fi project: We have already digitalised railway stations with a vision of making them smart platforms by installing Wi-Fi at 85 railway stations in Mumbai and Pune under the corporate social responsibility project.

How has Covid-19 impacted the telecom sector? What has been the impact on your operations?

The telecom industry is the invisible force behind social distancing as it allows people to stay socially connected but physically distant. The Covid-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented set of circumstances where people are adapting to new forms of working and social practices.

During the pandemic, a sharp rise in the use of digital tools, including video-conferencing and electronic payments has put the telecom sector in the spotlight for facilitating business continuity. However, the telecom sector is dependent on several other industries, which have been adversely affected by the lockdown.

POWERGRID’s telecom business was impacted due to the slowdown in the manufacturing industry and a global disruption in supply chains. This has led to both reduced demand and lower capacity creation.

As for the impact on revenue, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, new customer acquisition has been slow. Demand has shrunk from many existing customers as their own revenues have reduced. However, we have a positive outlook as the country has started to unlock gradually.

It is being recognised by everyone that digital is the way to go in the post-pandemic “new normal”.

Going forward, what new growth and revenue opportunities are you exploring in the telecom space?

India is currently the world’s second largest telecom market in the world and has been growing rapidly in the past decade. The Government introduced various Digital India programmes under which several areas such as healthcare, retail, e-commerce and education registered a rapid growth. Further, 5G service is about to start in India, which will lead to a very high demand for bandwidth capacity. So, the business opportunity will grow multifold in the industry. POWERGRID is also preparing to enter the following business areas:

  • Data centre (DC) business: We have 252 substations in different parts of the country. These substations offer secured space, power and fibre connectivity. The company would offer services for DC co-location, managed hosting, cloud computing and add-on services.
  • ILD: The company is planning to start ILD services in the neighbouring countries such as Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar through optical ground wire (OPGW) fibre. Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh are already connected on two routes in ring protection. OPGW connectivity to Myanmar has also been planned.
  • Tower co-location: We are also in the process of providing space over transmission towers for the installation of telecom antennas and BTS equipment to various TSPs and ISPs. The company has about 250,000 transmission towers across the country, of which initially 1,250 towers are identified, especially in rural areas where there is no BTS available due to the non-availability of power supply. Powergrid can also provide reliable green power at these remote tower locations by drawing induced power from isolated earth wire. This can go a long way in providing telecom connectivity at remote locations and reducing the digital divide in the country.