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T&M Trends: Increasing network digitisation driving segment growth

October 28, 2014
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The telecom test and measurement (T&M) industry in India is witnessing a spate of activity because of the rising demand for 3G and 4G technologies. Mobile users are increasingly demanding high speed data services, which puts pressure on operators to improve networks and quality of service. The recent focus on domestic manufacturing will accelerate the need for T&M even more. Industry experts discuss the opportunities, challenges and future outlook for the telecom T&M industry…

Benoy_CSVishnu_GoelHermant_M_Joshi

What is the role of T&M in the telecom sector? How have Indian telecom’s T&M requirements changed over the past few years?

Benoy C.S.

T&M is integral to the early market delivery of devices and services. Test equipment supports the entire supply chain – component manufacturers, handset manufacturers, operators, and laboratories that conduct compliance testing – and helps complete the research and development (R&D) cycle as quickly as possible without compromising on quality.

The Indian telecom industry witnessed tremendous growth in the past decade and a half. The sector had, in the recent past, struggled with regulatory hurdles, scams, high competition which led to low ARPUs, and lack of infrastructure in underpenetrated rural areas. Despite these challenges, however, recent developments like the successful spectrum auctions and the introduction of next-generation networks have made the market attractive again.

The T&M market has largely been influenced by developments like the proliferation of data-intensive devices and services, along with an ever-increasing subscriber base and the deployment of next-generation networks. Wireless networks are prone to impairments, and the overall complexity of wireless technologies prefigures the need for test equipment, especially with newer technologies like long term evolution (LTE) which amplify network complexity.

Vishnu Goel

Fundamentally, the role of T&M remains the same in every sector: to help the user organisation improve the quality, productivity, profitability and efficiency of its testing operations. In the telecom sector, the user could be an operator, a utility, a design entity or a large telecom element manufacturer. T&M requirements in the telecom sector change as per the technological evolution of network elements and are also determined by the segments where measurements need to be undertaken. This, in turn, depends on the layer and stage of network deployment and roll-out at which the testers are deployed. The Indian telecom industry is rapidly shifting to data services. Thus, most network technologies are digital in nature. In addition, fiberisation is occurring at a fast pace, devices and networks are converging, internet protocol version 6 (IPv6) is being introduced, and net neutrality is being discussed. Testing is also becoming more data and IP based.

Hemant M. Joshi

T&M is one of the most critical components in building new telecom networks. The T&M market performed moderately during the past few years because of the low uptake of 3G services, but the introduction of 4G has started providing additional growth opportunities in bigger cities. T&M solution providers are continuing to bring in innovations like automated testing in their product offerings to protect and expand their market share. This is expected to continue over the next few years.

What are the key trends in T&M technologies and solutions?

Vishnu Goel

The key trending technologies in India are high bandwidth measurements; multiple input, multiple output testing; and special tests on LTE-Advanced. Other technologies gaining traction are newer versions of signalling and protocol testing (like diameter signalling) and wide area network optimisation testing. Apart from these, quality tests and overall systemic specifications, which are required by the operator before accepting manufacturer-supplied systems, are being developed. Higher growth rates are driving the need for the latest equipment, which is highly expensive. Some user organisations are also using high-end consulting to optimise overall testing costs, particularly in value-added manufacturing.

Hemant M. Joshi

T&M equipment has always been very important and its significance is growing with the increasing demand for telecom services. In order to cater to the demand for seamless connectivity everywhere (between different technologies, different circles, etc.), specialised testing equipment is a necessity. With continuing data growth, big data is another opportunity for this segment to play a more crucial role, and providing solutions in this regard is the current trend. The launch of innovative applications and mobile TV, the convergence of technologies, and the compatibility of telecom devices with other industry products (health care, banking, education, retail and manufacturing) are other aspects of the industry demanding new T&M solutions.

What are the issues and challenges related to T&M? What policy and regulatory initiatives are required to enhance its adoption in India?

Benoy C.S.

Wireless test equipment vendors are faced with the challenge of keeping up with and trying to outdo service providers when it comes to providing cutting-edge test equipment for the deployment of new technology. Vendors would prefer to stay ahead of the technology curve and not compete in a commodity-like environment by producing low-end equipment. Both service providers and equipment vendors are faced with the challenge of ensuring that robust support is provided for existing technologies while simultaneously pushing forward for new technology support (for instance, LTE support). Service providers are also struggling with tight budgets as they have to limit their spending in the face of the widening gap between data traffic volumes and ARPUs.

Policies like preferential market access encourage domestic manufacturers and add significant domestic value to imported components. They also make it mandatory for products and their components to be tested, encouraging the adoption of T&M in the country. Such policies create a market for testing labs in the country. Currently, there is a lack of adequate testing infrastructure but if it is made mandatory, not just for imported components but also for finished ones, it will be necessary for the market to develop this infrastructure. In the long run, the government should enact policies and facilitate domestic manufacturing to boost T&M in the country. The Department of Telecommunications is planning to set up a centre for telecom testing and security certification to address security concerns related to the import and use of telecom equipment. Telecom service providers will be required to comply with international as well as Indian standards.

Vishnu Goel

The entire raison d’être of service providers is to provide best services at attractive costs and keep up with their peers. They are mostly in touch with two external entities: network equipment manufacturers (NEMs) and regulating agencies. Manufacturers are the best resource for advice on technological and business consulting issues, and the NEM itself falls back on a T&M company for this value addition. Despite this, investment in T&M remains low and this fact has not been adequately addressed in India even today. For a telecom company or an operator, providing quality is a critical aspect. If quality is to be maintained and monitored at every phase of deployment, there has to be a standard (national and international) in place. Then both performance and conformity needs will be better understood and subscribers will have the best networks. This can all be ensured by adopting better and standardised T&M hardware, software and application services.

Hemant M. Joshi

In the National Telecom Policy, 2012, the government mandated the testing and certification of all telecom products for conformance, performance, interoperability, health, safety, security, EMF/EMI/EMC, etc., to ensure safe-to-connect and seamless functioning in existing and future networks. Meeting conformance testing and certification requirements is challenging for operators, but they create a tremendous opportunity for T&M solution providers. Cash-strapped operators are not able to make more T&M investments and for this reason, government support like testing labs and appropriate certifications should be provided to help them out.

How is the T&M segment set to evolve?

Benoy C.S.

The mobile device test equipment segment will continue to be one of the largest in the T&M market because of the continuous growth in the number of smartphone and tablet users. The increasing complexity of mobile devices will drive the demand for wireless test equipment in R&D and manufacturing. The mobile backhaul and wireless core test equipment segment offers tremendous opportunities to test equipment vendors as the industry is shifting to IP/Ethernet technologies. With the introduction of next-generation technologies and the need for service providers to ensure a superior quality of service, the segment will increasingly gain significance.

Vishnu Goel

In the next few years, the T&M segment will evolve more rapidly, with the main drivers being newer standards of deployment and testing, iPv6-driven testing and heavy use of data proliferation. Over-the-top applications on the network layer such as Facebook and Viber will create the need for the composite testing of devices and networks together, which will drive demand in the T&M segment, to an extent. The merger of companies and devices with networks and new business models coming from e-commerce and m-commerce companies are interesting developments to look forward to. Only smart companies will be able to capture and respond to these T&M trends.

Hemant M. Joshi

T&M providers need to demonstrate continuous innovations and thought leadership to sustain themselves in the Indian market. They will become a driving factor in the definition of new standards, partnering with network operators to help them comply with government regulations. The quality assurance of real-time applications and expert knowledge in big data and network security are likely to influence the road ahead for this segment.

 
 
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