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Busy Times Ahead: Equipment vendors set to gain from new technology roll-outs

February 19, 2019
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The past one year was a promising one for telecom network equipment vendors in India. Growing data demand compelled telcos to undertake massive 4G/VoLTE roll-outs and modernise their networks, which presented a significant opportunity for vendor engagement. In addition, network equipment providers collaborated with various industry players and government bodies for laying the groundwork for commercial deployment of 5G. With the recently released National Digital Communications Policy (NDCP), 2018 focusing on the creation of a robust digital ecosystem, the vendor community can expect brisk business. As the industry steps into 2019, key equipment vendors share their views on the growth prospects and key challenges...(from left: Manoj Bhan, Executive Vice President, Corporate Affairs and Communication, Vihaan Networks Limited; Amit Marwah, Head of Marketing and Corporate Affairs, Nokia India; Sanjay Nayak, Chief Executive Officer, Tejas Networks; Radhey Shyam Sarda, Chief Technology Officer, Huawei India)

 

How do you rate the performance of the telecom network and equipment industry in 2018? What were the key highs and lows?

Manoj Bhan

It is critical for the Indian telecom industry to focus on local equipment manufacturing and network design. Rural India represents a huge growth opportunity given that 70 per cent of the population lives in these areas and that rural penetration has stagnated at 58 per cent. The NDCP, 2018 and recent recommendations from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to promote local equipment manufacturing have been welcomed by the industry. However, the dependence on foreign vendors is putting pressure on the current account deficit because net imports of telecom equipment have always outstripped net exports.

Amit Marwah

The year 2018 saw operators expand and strengthen their 4G networks pan-India, and this momentum will continue in 2019. The availability of affordable devices, high speed 4G connectivity, and proliferation of over-the-top (OTT) content increased the country’s appetite for data. New innovative network technologies like carrier aggregation and multiple-input and multiple-output (MIMO) will help operators expand their existing network capacity. These technologies will also help them prepare networks for the 5G and connected-devices era. Virtualisation and IPification of networks are already progressing well.

Sanjay Nayak

In 2018, India emerged as the largest carrier of internet traffic in the world. Indian telcos continued to invest in network upgrades. The industry also witnessed consolidation, which has led to fewer but stronger players. The government completed Phase I of BharatNet, for which we were the leading gigabit passive optical network (GPON) equipment provider, connecting over 47,000 gram panchayats and more than 1,600 block offices. Bids for Phase II are at various stages of evaluation and we expect the project to be completed in 2019.

The government continues its emphasis on Make in India and has strengthened the preferential market access policy. The NDCP, 2018 as well as TRAI’s recommendations strongly suggest that we should encourage domestic products and reduce our dependence on imports.

Radhey Shyam Sarda

During the past year, 4G penetration increased from a low single-digit to more than 30 per cent, and over 75 per cent of the new devices shipped were 4G capable. Also, data traffic grew at an exponential pace, leading to the densification of 4G and the deployment of CloudAIR (a new spectrum sharing technology) for maximising 4G spectrum utilisation and of massive MIMO. However, while the subscriber base and data consumption grew, ARPUs and revenues declined, resulting in increased financial pressure on the industry.

What are some of the emerging trends in the telecom networks, equipment and technology space?

Manoj Bhan

Given that the Indian telecom industry is striving to be among the front runners in implementing 5G, we will need to take firm steps to securely develop indigenous telecom equipment. Given that a lot remains to be achieved in terms of basic telecom connectivity, the industry should not be eyeing upcoming technologies as it will increase the digital divide. Since only a few players are developing and manufacturing basic telecom equipment (2G) in India, the government needs to take decisions that support the overall needs of the country. Currently, with the majority of the telecom equipment being imported, ensuring network security and safety could become difficult, unless the infrastructure is indigenous.

Amit Marwah

Operators are investing in strengthening their 4G footprint, refarming spectrum to cater to the growth and maximising fibre availability, despite limitations regarding right of way (RoW) and layers of approvals. Operators’ focus is moving towards preparing their networks for 5G. They will continue their migration towards cloud infrastructure while leveraging the best of network function virtualisation (NFV)/software-defined networking (SDN) to future-proof their investments and networks. Nokia’s vision for FutureX with cloud, NFV, SDN, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will truly transform networks into cloud-efficient cognitive networks.

Sanjay Nayak

There has been an increasing emphasis on programmable software-intensive systems, whereby complex network functions are being virtualised and realised as software applications to accelerate network agility and service innovation. On the wireline side, optic fibre is now inching closer to end-users with technologies such as GPON and NG-PON (next-generation PON). We expect a strong demand for optical products with terabit-scale optical transport network and packet switching capabilities for efficient bandwidth management. On the wireless side, we are seeing the continued roll-out of 4G/LTE networks. Also, with the advent of internet of things (IoT) and machine-to-machine (M2M), network security has become paramount.

Radhey Shyam Sarda

Massive MIMO and 5G are two key emerging trends. The solution to support both high capacities and quality on 4G is to leverage 5G technologies on 4G networks. Massive MIMO is one such game-changing technology. This year we expect to see large-scale deployment of massive MIMO to address both capacity and quality requirements.

While 2018 has been a good year for demonstrating 5G use cases, 2019 is poised to be the year of 5G field trials in India. Enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) will drive the first wave of 5G, while massive IoT and digitalisation of vertical industries will drive the next wave of 5G. The roll-out of 5G will be at the heart of the proliferation of other technologies such as AI, IoT and augmented reality-virtual reality (AR-VR). These technologies will complement each other.

What are your views on the NDCP, 2018?

Manoj Bhan

The NDCP, 2018 should give a boost to local manufacturers since it aims to localise the telecom industry and encourage design-led production of telecom equipment. The policy aims to attract $100 billion by 2022. It also focuses on broadband and emerging technologies such as IoT and M2M communications.

Amit Marwah

The NDCP is a bold step towards a digital economy, digital democracy and digital inclusiveness. However, true success will lie in its implementation. From a 5G perspective, the government has already created a high-level forum to discuss all issues and come up with possible solutions. Nokia, with its end-to-end portfolio, is committed to these goals.

Sanjay Nayak

The NDCP, 2018 has articulated a bold vision for the telecom industry. It lays emphasis on design-led manufacturing with high domestic value addition in the country. It also proposes to incentivise the generation of standard essential patents by Indian entities and enhance intellectual property rights (IPR) in areas such as 5G on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms. Coupled with Preference to Make in India (PMI), the policy can expand the procurement of Indian products with domestic IPR in government procurements.

Radhey Shyam Sarda

Rechristening the National Telecom Policy as NDCP, 2018 and the proposed renaming of TRAI as the Digital Communications Regulatory Authority of India are a clear indication of the government’s commitment to its Digital India vision. While Digital India has progressed in some areas, there are others that still need attention. The government has also sought to introduce e-services with the Unified Mobile Application for New-age Governance (UMANG), Bharat Interface for Money (BHIM), DigiLocker, and other e-governance initiatives. The year 2018 has also seen a fair amount of work on the Smart Cities Mission front. Having made significant strides in 2018, the Digital India initiative has a lot more to achieve in the years to come. The release of E band along with increased fiberisation across different states will be crucial for the success of these initiatives in the 5G era.

What are your views on the evolving 5G ecosystem in India?

Manoj Bhan

5G will be a game changer for businesses. However, we need to first provide basic infrastructure, which is acutely required by our customers, by setting up major research and development (R&D) hubs. The entire rural population requires an elementary educational platform in order to make use of the present technologies and more than 80 per cent of the urban population also needs a holistic upgrade.

Amit Marwah

The government has taken a proactive stand in engaging various stakeholders to launch 5G in India. Nokia has been leading the commercial deployment of 5G globally, on both the standardisation and the commercialisation aspects. We are confident that it will be no different in India, as we engage with and participate in various industry and government initiatives including ideating on India-relevant use cases, which could be rural connectivity through fixed wireless access, public safety, agriculture, digital education, medical and Industry 4.0.

Sanjay Nayak

I believe 5G will drive new network architectures and use cases, and lead to the increased use of software and optical networking. With proper industry focus and government support, we can become a global telecom products hub. 5G will also open up opportunities for the country to assume a leadership role at the global level through increased exports.

Radhey Shyam Sarda

Last year, we observed a lot of action taking place around 5G. This year too, the groundwork is being laid, including 5G field trials. We are focused on successfully conducting trials and contributing towards building an India-specific ecosystem and use cases in collaboration with all stakeholders, including telecom service providers, start-ups, academia and other partners. The government is focused on bringing 5G to India in alignment with global timelines. We think that we are moving in the right direction and are getting ready to achieve this milestone.

What are the key issues and challenges facing the industry? Do you have a regulatory wish list?

Manoj Bhan

The sector faces challenges in two main areas – service delivery and technology. It is encouraging to see TRAI stressing on the need to promote domestic telecom manufacturing. Further, the recommendation for the creation of a Telecom Research and Development Fund with an initial corpus of Rs 10 billion is set to promote research, innovation, design, testing, certification and manufacturing of indigenous telecom equipment.

Amit Marwah

Low site fiberisation is a key concern. With 5G coming up much faster than anticipated, this represents a challenge as well as an opportunity. Government support in terms of opening up the E and V bands as well as easing right of way (RoW) will help. Also, spectrum prices in India are very high and need to be in sync with global levels.

Sanjay Nayak

In 2018, we saw several forward-looking policy initiatives such as the NDCP, 2018, PMI and TRAI’s report on promoting domestic equipment manufacturing. However, for these policies to have the desired impact, many implementation lacunae have to be plugged. For instance, many public sector units and state government-funded projects are still not implementing the PMI policy and many tenders are floated with eligibility conditions that eliminate domestic players and favour multinational vendors.

Radhey Shyam Sarda

The need for infrastructure densification can be met through the use of street platforms such as lamp posts and utility poles for mounting infrastructure elements. We recommend the formulation of easier guidelines on the release of street furniture for mounting infrastructure elements to IP-1s. Also, active sharing of in-building solutions  through IP-1s can be allowed. This will lead to an improvement in broadband coverage, capacity and user experience.

Maximising fibre roll-out is very important. The NDCP strategy to establish a National Digital Grid regulated by a National Fibre Authority is a crucial step. Early release of E band based on a light licensing model is also important to complement last-mile fibre.

What is your outlook for the Indian market for 2019?

Manoj Bhan

TRAI’s recommendations on local equipment manufacturing aim to increase investments in R&D, in order to reduce and eventually eliminate the need to import telecom equipment by 2022. These are being considered as the most crucial steps forward.

Amit Marwah

4G is expected to drive the bulk of data traffic in 2019 as adoption will increase beyond metros and Tier I cities. Low-cost VoLTE devices and the proliferation of OTT will further boost data consumption. Driven by operators’ investments in virtualised networks as part of their 4G roll-outs, the commercial launch of 5G in India can be expected by 2020, in line with the developed markets.

Sanjay Nayak

In 2019, we expect India to continue to be the fastest growing optical networking market, driven by exponential growth in 4G data usage and increased digitalisation. Telcos will continue to increase their 4G footprint and improve tower fiberisation. Experimental deployments of 5G may be seen, but large-scale roll-outs are still a few years away. We expect the government to take steps to bolster network security and cybersecurity. We expect to benefit from this huge domestic demand.

Radhey Shyam Sarda

We think that in 2019, 4G will continue to witness robust growth as it intensifies the use of pre-5G technologies such as CloudAIR, massive MIMO and NB-IoT into 4G networks. Also, 2019 is the preparatory year for 5G. Last year, we saw live 5G demos in the country; this year we will see the industry, the government and academia coming together to conduct 5G trials. Further, consumer devices supporting 5G will hit global markets in 2019. Huawei’s 5G smartphones will be available, including 5G foldable phones, thereby creating a whole new experience for users. Therefore, 2019 is set to be a watershed year when 5G finally starts becoming a consumer reality and opens up new dimensions of use and growth for the industry.

 
 
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