India falls way short on connectivity backed by an optical fibre network, said chief of Sterlite Technologies, a company that makes power transmission and optic-fibre products. According to Anand Agarwal, capacity planning lags demand in India, not the other way round.
Only about 13-14% of India’s nearly four lakh telecom towers are connected through optic fibre, Agarwal said in an interview. An effective data network on fourth-generation technology requires 90-95% optic fibre for telecom towers.
In countries with highspeed Internet connectivity, there is a much wider opticfibre network. In the US or China, for example, Agarwal said there is over one billion kilometres of fibre on the ground.
“We expect India to have about 400 million kms by 2020… At the time the networks were put in place, the need was voice, even right now it is. But data consumption is on the minds of operators now, so there will be (optic-fibre) rollout,” Agarwal said. At present, the most aggressive laying of fibre optic cable is being carried out for the National Optic Fibre Network and by Reliance Jio Infocomm, added Agarwal.
Data capacity and quality of voice calling improve significantly when the towers are connected via optic fibre rather than over airwaves.However, laying the fibre involves digging of roads, or putting up infrastructure that require approvals of local bodies.
A streamlined policy for right of way to lay fibre underground is needed to increase and expedite the rollout, Agarwal said. He cited the example of the difference between Mumbai, where the approval costs Rs 60 lakh per km, and Delhi, where the cost is just seventh or eighth of that in Mumbai. Yet “operators are finding ways and business cases. Even then, laying is being undertaken in Mumbai, for example Jio is doing it,” he said.
Operators have expressed concern that with the National Optic Fibre Network project and a major rollout from Reliance Jio, there are inadequate contracts to lay more fibre and infrastruc ture. Agarwal is not on the same page, who said operators with smaller laying requirements such as Vodafone India or Idea Cellular may have to schedule rollout work to fit into leaner periods, but that build-out capacity was sufficient. Sterlite Technologies’ order book has been seeing some expansion. “Next year whether it will be 40% higher or 60% is difficult to say, but it will be growing,” he said.
At the start of the current quarter, the company had an order book of Rs 4,900 crore. It had revenue of Rs 592 crore, with operating profit of Rs 81 crore.