The industry is witnessing a surge in data demand and towercos and infrastructure providers (IP-1s) are playing a key role in catering to this demand. As the data momentum builds up, IP-1s will have to take up a bigger role in facilitating India’s digital vision. At a recent conference, Bimal Dayal, chief executive officer, Indus Towers, shared his views on the new and emerging trends that are shaping the telecom infrastructure industry in India. Excerpts…

Data consumption will continue to grow in future 

In recent years, connectivity has transformed the way people live and societies function. The Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is getting redefined with connectivity emerging as one of the basic needs, as important as food and water.  In India, the momentum of data demand is building up in the hinterland. The next wave of data growth is being driven by rural pockets. This would require more points of radiation and infrastructure providers will have a big role to play in this. As the points of presence grow, the competition will be around quality of service.

Innovations by IP-1s: Evolving role of towers

Innovations by IP-1s and push from our customers have helped us enhance tower functionalities. Telecom towers have emerged as the new Swiss knife in town. They are now doubling as street poles and Wi-Fi access points. They are supporting smart LED lights, cameras for city surveillance, as well as location and pollution sensors. The virtually ubiquitous tower network facilitates the proliferation of such applications across geographies. The tower site also serves as an advertisement location, and can be monetised. It can also be used as an electric vehicle (EV) charging station. IP-1s are transforming the cityscape by providing new and innovative solutions.

5G is coming

There is a lot of buzz globally around 5G, particularly in terms of devices and potential use cases. However, the telco response remains muted as they are still exploring the revenue streams and business cases for 5G. Undoubtedly, 5G will be the most transformative technology the industry has every rolled out. It will change the way data is consumed and the way industry verticals are addressed by technology. As infrastructure providers, we are often being asked about our role in the 5G ecosystem. I believe 5G roll-out will be essentially based on 4G roll-out and the densification of 4G networks would largely determine the success of 5G. The industry is talking about Edge computing, which involves the setting up of large data centres across the cities. Site fiberisation will be the key to 5G roll-out. I believe 5G has increased IP-1s’ relevance, bringing them to the forefront.

Smart city opportunities

We were also the first ones to leverage the business opportunities presented by the government’s Smart Cities Mission. We forayed into the space by collaborating with NDMC and subsequently won the Vadodara Smart City project. We have adopted a cookie-cutter approach and are working with municipalities in PPP mode to make sure that the services are delivered to the citizens. Going forward, many such cities will come up, opening up a plethora of opportunities for all towercos.

Execution is the key

The year 2018 was significant for the telecom industry as the National Digital Communications Policy (NDCP), 2018 was announced. The policy document is forward-looking, with clear goals. It is a positive step towards establishing a digital future for the country. All we need to do now is to execute the NDCP vision. The document lays enough emphasis on the role of IP-1s. It talks about enhancing the scope of IP-1s to help them take up the role of netcos. The policy also focuses on converged infrastructure, setting up of data centres for 5G, delinking of fibre and ducts, delinking of infrastructure and services, smart cities, FTTx, green EV charging, etc.

Focus on green

At Indus Towers, we have always been at the helm of innovation. We were the first ones to bring in the concept of green sites in the industry. We also introduced the fixed cost model to eliminate disputes with customers. We are making efforts to ensure that our sites become diesel free by 2021. Gas can emerge as a good alternative and we can use gas-based gensets in cities.

Net, net

In the past few years, IP-1s have undergone significant transformation, but we need to further transform to cater to the future needs. The industry and we at Indus Towers are very excited about this new phase. The country is set to witness a massive transformation in its digital fabric, with the telecom infrastructure industry at the helm.