Manish Sinha, Chief Marketing Officer, STL

STL recently completed 25 years of operations. A leader in India’s optical fibre cable (OFC) manufacturing space, the company has evolved with changing times and transformed into an end to end network solutions provider. Manish Sinha, chief marketing officer, STL, talks about company’s focus areas and future strategies…

What has been STL’s growth trajectory in the past 25 years? How has STL’s business transformed during this period?

Over the last 25 years, STL has built unique capabilities in optical connectivity, large scale digital network integration, and virtualised wireless solutions; which is unparalleled in the industry. We have world-class manufacturing facilities in India, Italy, Brazil, and China, along with two software-development centres across India and one data Centre design facility in the UK. Over the last few years, STL has strategically transformed into a solutions-driven organization with integrated capabilities – Optical Interconnect, Virtualised Access Solutions, Network Software and System Integration. We are working with global digital network creators across India, Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. STL has transformed from an optical fibre manufacturer to an industry-leading integrator of digital networks by investing in technologies, talent, and building capabilities.

How is STL positioning itself in the ever-evolving digital ecosystem?

For the majority of organisations across the globe, digital disruption is the new normal. As the world adapts to these changes, we see substantial shifts in usage patterns and traffic in five key ways; a) From predominantly entertainment to enterprises and cloud-use cases, b) From download only to symmetric uploads and downloads – boosted by video conferencing, c) From asynchronous to real-time use cases, requiring instantaneous response time, d) From office networks to ever-increasing home networks usage, and e) Increase in traffic by 60-70 percent.

These shifts to digital are permanent – people’s behaviour, lifestyle, and business models will have to adapt to this change. We are already seeing this happen – organisations like TCS, Twitter, and Optus announcing a permanent shift to work from home. The Internet has become a basic necessity in the 21st century, like water, food, gas, and electricity. With the sudden surge in demand, the current architecture needs to be upgraded.

STL is leading the Make in India 5G ecosystem by investing in technology and assembling an ecosystem of partners in hardware manufacturing, cloud computing, and academia. The ecosystem will create the Next-Gen Digital Network by bringing together four specialised technological confluences – (i) wired and wireless (ii) software and hardware (iii) connectivity and compute, and (iv) open source – all at the edge of the network. This network will bring the scale and quality to bring affordable Internet to the world.

What are your key focus areas? What are some of the key projects that you are working on currently in India and abroad?

We are collaborating with Indian and global telecom companies, cloud companies, citizen networks, and large enterprises for network modernization, network infrastructure development, FTTH connectivity, and other fixed and wireless network requirements.

We are also working with both state and central governments to support their initiatives for making India digital. We have been part of initiatives including BharatNet, MahaNet to connect gram panchayats across Maharashtra state; T-Fiber for rural broadband in Telangana; Project Varun to make our borders more secure, etc. We are actively discussing large scale engagements with global, marquee network creators with STL for 5G networks, FTTH rollouts, Data centres, and network modernisation.

How has Covid-19 outbreak impacted the OFC market at large and STL in particular? How is STL dealing with the crisis?

The COVID-19 outbreak in the first half of 2020 has slow down the growth of the global OFC market. However, things are coming back to normal. The market is driven by the rise in global Internet traffic. In addition, the development of next-generation telecommunication standards is anticipated to boost the growth of the fibre optics market.

Our facilities were shut for a very brief period of time. As we had enough material in stock, during the Covid-19 times, we were able to deliver and support our customer’s requirements. Now, our production capacities in all our manufacturing units have revved up to pre-COVID levels.

As remote working is the new norm, we are already seeing organisations like TCS, Twitter and Optus announcing a permanent shift to work from home. We were one of the first few companies in India to start to Work from Home. We have seen collaborations and effectiveness improve to a whole new level. We have decided to convert our offices to hot-desking and distributed work centres and are exploring innovative work best practices.

What are your views on the Indian industry’s preparedness for 5G? When do you see a commercial rollout taking place in the country? What are some of the areas that need immediate attention?

5G is a technology with ‘quantum jump’ that is enabling new applications possible which are focused on extremely high efficiency – industrial applications, real-time educational/healthcare applications as well as multiple peer-to-peer high bandwidth, low latency applications like gaming possible. M2M communication will be higher, the requirement will be for higher bandwidth and in real-time. For 5G – applications will be wider – enterprises – both private and public will be major users.

On the application front – whether it is the application developer, the application hosting platform, the customer front-ending engine – all that has to be extremely entrepreneurial and innovative.

On the infrastructure end, extremely high bandwidth, edge computation and edge storage – this requires deep fiberisation, edge compute and small cells – almost in a model similar to electricity distribution. 5G small cells would literally be deployed over a lot of street light hardware. I believe the infrastructure build for 5G or any other digital requirement should be thought of in a similar manner as any other core infrastructure like roads, power, etc. This infrastructure must be built once and then shared for multiple applications by the various digital service providers.

How is STL participating in and contributing to the country’s 5G ecosystem?

STL is leading one-of-a-kind 5G ecosystem that will enable self-sufficient indigenous solutions for 5G for all markets. We have invested in technology and assembled an ecosystem of partners in hardware manufacturing, cloud computing, and academia.

  • Acquired IDS Group – a data centre design and deployment specialist,
  • Invested in ASOCS – a pioneer in virtual Radio Access Networks (vRAN),
  • Partnered with VMware – the leading provider of cloud virtualization infra,
  • Contracted with VVDN – developer of focused radio hardware solutions,
  • Aligned with IIT Madras – for research and technical advancements in 5G.

This will enable self-sufficient indigenous solutions for 5G for all markets.

What will be three-four key technology trends that will shape the sector in the coming years? How is STL planning to leverage these opportunities?

In the past two decades, Telecom has had a good run. With only one application – voice, telcos were concerned only with connectivity and one asset – spectrum. With digital, the paradigm has shifted. In digital, there are many applications, ranging from video conferencing, to online education, to cloud-based collaboration and real-time gaming. This is only a start with future applications based on deep learning, asynchronous driving, etc. Beyond only connectivity, it is about data compute, storage, and transfer. In the digital, the converged infrastructure of fibre and wireless, of compute and connectivity becomes ubiquitous. Trends such as the 5G revolution and the advancement of the Internet of Things (IoT) will reshape the telecom sector and force innovation on a massive scale. The telecommunications industry is a vital centre for cutting-edge technology adoption. With the integration of AI technologies, 5G networks, and the IoT, telecom organizations will continue to be at the forefront of technological growth. These technologies require a next-gen digital network to operate effortlessly. STL is uniquely positioned with our 5G ecosystem and digital network integration capabilities to deliver these next-gen digital networks for our customers globally.

Going forward, what are your investment plans and growth strategy for the next few years?

With a portfolio ranging from optical fibre and cables, to network design, deployment and network software, we are positioned as an industry leading integrator of digital networks. Over the years, we have built unique capabilities and had consciously focused on the Indian market for our services business. We have been doing projects for defence, telecom ecosystem, smart cities, and rural broadband. Now, we are eyeing an international foray for our services business, and we will go for a structured approach for the same. At STL, we are strengthening our wireless and 5G ecosystem by adding global talent and partners to our system.