India’s telecom network is deteriorating day by day and this is not only true for one operator and one geography but it is true for all operators, all geographies and all kinds of services whether voice or data services. So how do we solve this problem once and for all and improve telecom network quality in the country.
Presently, Reliance Jio is planning to divest its towers and fiber infrastructure. Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel are also coming together for divesting their fiber infrastructure as the two have already divested their towers but the need of the hour is how Reliance Jio, Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel can come together and offer fiber to a carrier neutral fiber company (ownership by a non mobile company with fiber domain specialist and willing to invest large capital) and this needs to be done on a war footing. On the one hand, Indian operators will get money to reduce their debt which is the biggest concern of all Indian operators and consumers will benefit from good quality of service.
The carrier neutral fiber company is on the lines of shared tower companies but the only difference is it needs to be owned by a non-mobile company so that all operators will have confidence in this fiberco (fiber company) as they can perform their operations with lot of transparency. The fiber company will buy fiber from all operators and invest in creating a large fiber infrastructure both in the metro network as well as national long distance network. Depending upon the need, operators can lease fiber from fiberco and provide FTTH, voice, data and smart city services.
As per industry insiders, there is an acute shortage of fiber in the metro networks and not in the NLD (National Long Distance) networks which is the root cause of the problem. For e.g. tower fiberization for Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea is to the tune of 25-30 percent whereas tower fiberization for Reliance Jio is to the tune of 60-65 percent. Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea needs to catch up in a big way with respect to Reliance Jio in terms of tower fiberization but there is a definite need to increase tower fiberization for all operators say Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea. Once tower fiberization increases, the QoS of operators will increase significantly thereby reducing call drops, call echo, call mixed with noise and many others for consumers.
Due to high cost of RoW (Right of Way) and cash crunch on the operator front, operators are investing a lot in increasing the network capacities but they are not investing similar amount of money in fiber infrastructure. First, the networks will carry increased video traffic and video traffic bound to increase in future with new technologies like 5G and 6G and they are totally dependent on fiber. Second, Smart Cities project is heavily dependent on fiber infrastructure for G2C (Government to Citizen) services. Even all future services will be bandwidth intensive and is dependent on fiber. So, operators have no other option but to invest heavily in fiber infrastructure to cater to future services.
Indian Operator’s Fiber Break-up:
Operator – Metro Network – NLD Network
Reliance Jio – 100,000 RKm – 250,000 RKm
Bharti Airtel – 35,000 RKm – 170,000 RKm
Vodafone Idea – 35,000 RKm – 121,000 RKm
Source: Industry Sources, DigiAnalysys
If we look at the table above, we come to the conclusion that operators have invested a lot in NLD fiber network but investment in metro fiber network needs to be enhanced. In India, the metro fiber network is almost one fourth in comparison to NLD fiber network. On the metro fiber network, Reliance Jio leads with 100,000 RKm followed by Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea with 35,000 RKm each. So carrier neutral fiber company needs to make big investment in metro fiber network.
The carrier neutral fiber company needs to map all the fibres present in the ground for all operators. Once the fiber is mapped, the carrier neutral fiber company will deploy fibre in areas where there is a requirement by investing in new fiber routes or augmenting existing routes. Depending upon the requirements, operators, municipal authorities, IP-1 and IP- 2 players can lease fiber from carrier neutral fiber company for providing different services like 4G, 5G, FTTx and smart city services. All this will be a win-win for all say operators, government and consumers in short term as well as long term.