Dhananjay Joshi, managing director and chief executive officer, Summit Digitel

Incorporated in 2020, Summit Digitel is already one of India’s largest independent towercos. Going forward, it aims to cater to service providers across the telecom value chain, including mobile network operators (MNOs) and internet service providers (ISPs). In an interview with tele.net, Dhananjay Joshi, managing director and chief executive officer, Summit Digitel, talks about the company’s focus areas and future plans…

How has been Summit Digitel’s journey in the Indian telecom space so far?

We are a young and dynamic organisation. While we are yet to reach our first anniversary, we have already bloomed into one of India’s largest telecom infrastructure providers, with over 140,000 operational telecom sites and growing. We have successfully onboarded two of the biggest MNOs in the sector, and we plan on on-boarding the remaining two as well. We aspire to be seen as an operator-agnostic organisation and provide services to MNOs, ISPs and any other such entities. Our infrastructure is designed to support 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G standards. It can further be utilised for emerging applications and network solutions such as IoT, AI, massive MIMO and outdoor small cells. Our tower infrastructure is scalable and customisable to provide voice and data services in dense urban as well as remote rural geographies.

What are some of the new revenue drivers and opportunities that you are looking at?

In the telecom value chain, towercos are increasingly assuming the role of shared digital infrastructure providers. Our model is well structured to allow us to evolve into an end-to-end digital infrastructure provider, not just to MNOs but also to ISPs, OTT players, etc.  Currently, our key revenue driver is the monetisation of our tower assets through MNOs. In the future, we may look at engaging other telecom players to further enhance their utilisation. We also see 5G as a major revenue driver, as it may create opportunities such as fibre sharing and fibre-to-the-home.

What are your views on the sector’s readiness to launch 5G services? What will be the role of towercos in this regard?

The adoption of 5G technology is expected to revolutionise communication networks, and open up new possibilities for enterprises and telcos. There is a significant rise in broadband and data needs emerging from healthcare facilities, schools, entertainment services, gaming, and commercial and industrial applications, and 5G is going to fill that gap. As per reports, millions of Indians will adopt 5G in the first year of its roll-out, considering 5G-ready devices are already available in the market.

With such a promise, almost every player in the industry is keen to explore this space. Airtel has announced that its network is 5G ready while Jio will roll out 5G services in the second half of 2021. Recently, the Department of Telecommunications allocated spectrum for 5G trials to telcos. Some of them have already begun trials in select cities.

A strong infrastructure will be the key to 5G success in India. 5G will not be immediately ubiquitous and will rely heavily on identifying and catering to hotspots where data demand is high. This is where towercos will function as the backbone, providing the requisite infrastructure to MNOs. Moreover, towercos may expect an expansion of their roles beyond the current portfolio of towers, even offering fiberisation to enable seamless 5G services.

What are the key challenges you are facing? Do you have a regulatory wish list?

Telecom has come a long way in the past 10 years in terms of regulatory norms. It is also evident that in any challenging situation, telecom has played a key role in seamlessly connecting people and resources, and hence, it is prudent to recognise telecom as a basic necessity and value it appropriately. With 5G roll-outs, fibre-sharing businesses are bound to evolve. They would require strong regulatory support and standardisation of policies and right-of-way practices across the country.

What are the company’s growth plans and focus areas for the next two years?

The telecom industry has seen a data explosion in recent years and will continue to witness high data demand. To cater to such demand, the MNOs need to fiberise and extend their network reach to uncharted territories. Summit Digitel is strongly positioned to cater to such needs as 65 per cent of its towers are already fiberised. In urban regions, we stand tall at 80 per cent fibre-connected sites.

What is your outlook for the Indian telecom tower industry for the next few years?

The three factors that will fuel the growth of towercos are data explosion, a strong focus on operational excellence and telcos’ attention to rural areas. Moreover, the advent of 5G will result in new deployment requirements. Also, with fewer MNOs in the sector, opportunities such as infrastructure and spectrum sharing, traffic offloading and carrier aggregation might be explored.