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Ascend Telecom: Leveraging technology to maintain a competitive edge

September 06, 2016
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By Puneet Kumar Arora

The roll-out of 3G and 4G networks by telecom operators has generated several growth opportunities for infrastructure providers. In addition, the increasing operator interest in rural areas to drive business growth and massive infrastructural support required for the successful implementation of the government’s Digital India initiative and the Smart Cities Mission has opened up new avenues for tower companies.

To this end, Ascend Telecom Infrastructure Private Limited is well positioned to tap the burgeoning business opportunities. The company currently has a footprint of around 5,200 towers with a tenancy of around 2x and a strong client portfolio comprising all the major telecom operators in the country.

Since its inception in 2002, the company has witnessed considerable progress both operationally and financially. One of the earliest investments in the company was made by growth capital firm New Silk Route (NSR) in 2007. At the time, Ascend had less than 200 towers in the country and a tenancy of about 1x. NSR currently holds a 70 per cent stake in the company. In 2011, another telecom infrastructure firm, India Telecom Infra Limited, jointly owned by Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services and TVS Interconnect Systems, was merged with Ascend in a share swap deal.

Product and service portfolio

Ascend leases out its tower infrastructure to telecom operators on a shared and multi-tenancy basis. It is also the first company in India to offer sites to operators with complete passive infrastructure based on a build-own-lease model. In addition, the company offers services related to site location, and design, execution and maintenance of infrastructure.

Ascend’s modest scale of operations has enabled the company to meet customers’ expectations and resolve their complaints promptly. According to Sanjeev Chachondia, operating partner, NSR, “Scale advantages for a large company appear in the form of low cost of procurement and operations but large companies often tend to be slow in responding to customer needs. Owing to Ascend’s moderate size and its effective use of technology, the company has been able to respond quickly to customer needs, while it has managed to keep its unit costs lower than those of most of the competitors. NSR has been guiding Ascend to focus on unit tower economics and meet customer expectations. This has reaped rich benefits over the past eight years.”

Energy management as a key focus area

Ascend has been one of the earliest proponents of the use of technology for energy management. In the beginning itself, Ascend had established a state-of-the-art fully integrated intelligent tower operation centre that enabled remote management of tower sites. At present, the company uses smartphones and other advanced applications to perform the same remote management functions. The use of technology has also helped Ascend reduce power and fuel costs.

Further, in order to reduce diesel consumption, Ascend has deployed renewable energy solutions at various tower sites, with more than 40 per cent of the company’s towers currently using at least one green energy solution. It has also attempted to reduce the cost of solar panels and controllers, and redesigned the power interface units, besides using advanced storage solutions like lithium-ion, flow batteries and fuel cells. The move to adopt renewable energy solutions has augured well for the company. According to Chachondia, “Indian states are diverse in terms of their requirement for energy management solutions. While in some areas grid power is not available for a prolonged period, in other areas there are multiple power outages for shorter durations throughout the day. Meanwhile, the quality of grid power in terms of frequency and voltage is poor in some areas. Therefore, no single energy management solution can work across the network. We need to customise solutions for each of these requirements with green energy and storage alternatives. The result of all these initiatives has been very encouraging and Ascend has improved network uptime beyond 99.96 per cent while reducing diesel consumption by over 30 per cent.”

Future outlook

The telecom infrastructure industry presents a mixed growth outlook for the near term. While operator consolidation is likely to impede the roll-out of new sites, this will be offset by the surging demand for additional 4G tenancies and towers as the incumbents venture into new geographies. In order to leverage the 4G boom, Ascend is working closely with its customers to analyse the 4G demand and provide them with the most optimal solutions. According to the company, while 3G has failed to provide a true broadband experience, which explains its poor uptake, 4G with its high speed and high throughput capabilities will finally offer enhanced broadband wireless access on the go. Going forward, Ascend Telecom is likely to continue on a steady growth curve on the back of the company’s continued focus on offering faster roll-outs, low energy costs and improved uptime service levels.

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