Indian tech: Driving the next decade of network creation

Come 2030, every person on earth will be connected.

2021 has just started. The world has now entered the final phase of global connectivity. Sixty per cent of the global population is now connected and the upcoming decade of network creation will connect every person on the planet. 5G will dominate the connectivity landscape and bring in human-technology interactions that the world has never seen. Never has the world seen a greater equalizer. But now, as data gets democratized, it will not only make waves in technology, but will shape everything from daily living, to socioeconomics to even cultures. If we look at 2020, a decade worth digital evolution happened in this landmark year and this is what made network creators roll-up their sleeves and get to work!

The entire world is coming together to make this happen.

Telcos are making a huge effort for digital connectivity – Telcos are leaving no stone unturned for adopting innovative technologies and expanding networks. They are making huge investments for rolling out 5G; its subscriptions account for ~138 mn or 1.5% of the entire global mobile market (as on Oct’20). As of November 2020, globally 146 operators have launched commercial 5G services. While telcos are making all these efforts, they are still viewing people as customers. This is where the government needs to step in.

Governments are making digital inclusion a priority – Governments, globally, are putting massive investments and resources to connect every nook and corner. They are undertaking large scale programs to build digital infrastructure en masse. They are going beyond the business case, to provide digital access and to the largely under-served rural population. Some of the global digital connectivity initiatives which are focused on bridging the digital divide are UK Openreach program, National Ultra-broadband plan, Italy, National Broadband Scheme, Finland and Digital India Program, India.

Regulators are developing new-age frameworks – Infrastructure policy and regulation is critical for 5G. Policy makers and regulatory bodies are synergizing with the industry and the government to set up workable frameworks for testing and commercial readiness.

Digital citizens are batting for privacy and security – While this ecosystem is being built, the online citizens are already working towards ensuring that everyone has a digital identity and a voice, but with the highest standards of privacy and security.

5G is much more than a technology evolution, it is the advent of the next phase of human connectedness. Digital connectivity is expected to bring more than 3 billion internet users online [2]. 5G is a powerful technology waiting to be tapped for innovative use cases. Not only telcos, government and regulators but the whole community is working towards making digital identity happen for all, of course with privacy protection.

The technology foundation is ready and now is the time to start building these networks, which will be fibre-rich, open, disaggregated, virtualized, and programmable, at a scale that we never imagined before.

A solid technology foundation has been laid.

Everybody, right from the private enterprises to governments to hyperscalers, is investing in 5G technology. While Chinese companies have made investments of more than $12bn in H12020, the US is likely to invest $250bn between 2020-25. Some of the PE investments in 5G include KKR buying 37.5% stake in Telecom Italia Broadband project for 1.8bn euro; EQT and OMERS jointly acquiring Deutsche Glasfaser (DG) for 2.8bn euro.

But these investments will only yield results when technology behind 5G is robust and can be easily implemented. Globally, academia and research bodies are building testbeds and prototypes so that the technology is implemented on-ground with meaningful use cases. Even regulators are busy laying regulatory frameworks. All of this is possible not only for developed economies but also for emerging ones. These developments are happening at such a fast pace because of four fundamental technology shifts that got established last year:

  • Edge – Gartner says by 2025, 75% of enterprise-generated data will be created and processed at the edge – as against 10% in 2018.
  • Converged – FTTH council claims that the extra investment needed to make FTTH network ready for 5G (even for high density cells) is only 1% to 7%
  • Compute – Global market insights estimates that Micro data center market will leap from $3 Bn in 2018 to nearly $15 Bn by 2025.
  • Disaggregated – Many operators around the globe firm up ORAN plans – like Dish which plans to connect 70% of US population with ORAN based networks.

India’s role will be critical.

The foundation for 5G rollout has been laid and now is the time to start building the future. What the world needs is a new ecosystem and network architecture. India represents the second half of the world in a much better way than many other countries. India has 900 Mn rural population waiting to be connected, a huge, affordable workforce with high skill sets, the advantage of scale and an innovation mindset. This can be seen from India’s early wins in nation-wide digital programs like Aadhaar for providing digital identities to 1.23 billion citizens and Jandhan bank accounts for the poor. We have enabled robust digital payment platforms like BHIM-UPI that connected 134 banks to offer UPI services to their customers and UMANG (Unified Mobile Application for New Age Governance) for giving citizens access to 339 government services. We have proven our leadership in scientific innovation by showing our vaccine manufacturing capability to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.

We have the right skill sets, workforce, and technology in place to roll out 5G technology in the years to come. Today, some of the established operators are looking at solutions for openness and disaggregation and India is perfectly positioned to lead the transition from legacy to next-gen.

STL, an Indian tech player at the forefront of creating a 5G ecosystem.

STL is playing a bigger role in enabling digital infrastructure in the country. We are building an end to end working subsystem that integrates design, hardware, software, artificial intelligence, and security as a comprehensive 5G ecosystem. Recognizing these major shifts, STL focused on strengthening its core capabilities in optical solutions, network software, and system integration, while establishing new solutions in next-gen wireless access. Our solutions are Open, Disaggregated and Virtualized for developing network solutions that are vendor neutral, programmable, and scalable. We have high quality wired backhaul and agile fronthaul, which will allow customers full mobility.

We are shaping the larger Make in India ecosystem for 5G.

  • Leading fiberisation from the front: According to CRU, the Indian OFC demand is likely to grow to 20.08 million fibre kilometers by 2021 and 24.48 million fibre kilometers by 2022. STL is planning to invest ~INR300 crores to increase its capacity for optical fiber cables from 18 to 33 million kms.
  • Create Next-Gen Digital Network ecosystem: via specialized technological confluences (i) wired and wireless; (ii) software and hardware; (iii) connectivity and compute; and (iv) open source - all at the edge of the network.
  • Developing Indian technology innovation ecosystem: Align with open innovation platforms like AGNIi, Start Up India and Invest India