Ram Sellaratnam, chairman and managing director, iBus Networks

There is a massive surge in indoor voice and data consumption. While in-building solutions (IBS) are gaining traction in the Indian industry, there is still a long way to go. There is an urgent requirement for neutral hosts to step in to cater to the ever-increasing data demand. At a recent tele.net conference, Ram Sellaratnam, chairman and managing director, iBus Networks, shared his views on the current status of small cell deployment in the country, emerging trends, challenges and the industry outlook. Edited excerpts…

What is your view on the overall small cell ecosystem in the country?

There are multiple reasons as to why small cells have not taken off in a big way in India. Operators are not incentivised enough to make a viable business case to put an ecosystem together. While sharing is an ideal situation, only passive infrastructure has been shared so far.  But now with virtualisation happening on the RAN front and with sharing of active infrastructure, the situation is set to improve, resulting in better in-building coverage.

What are the key challenges?

The lack of willingness to pay is a constraint.  The only way to address this is by building technology. From an operator’s point of view, to provide in-building coverage, it pays a neutral host, the building owner, and bears the electricity cost for running the equipment. as recurring, operating costs in addition to deploying its own capital BBU/RRU capital equipment. With poor ARU,the economic benefit case is weak. So, we are deploying virtualised BBU/RRU on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) frameworks which takes out the capital costs and brings down operational costs for in-building coverage. In fact, some of the solutions we have deployed on virtualised RAN have straight away reduced about 30 per cent costs for operators.

When do you see this market taking off?

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought the much deserved recognition to the telecom sector, which means it seems to be attracting investments. There is a realisation that technology is the only way to break through costs. Operator willingness and awareness of business premise owner is so much more than it was five years back. We see virtualisation being adopted big time, through companies’ own investments and through partnerships. In the coming years, we will have much better coverage and many more connectivity options.

Is the small cell infrastructure currently being deployed shareable among operators?

To my knowledge, currently, it is not available.