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Operator outlook on infrastructure sharing

May 15, 2010
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The evolution of infrastructure sharing in India can be traced back to 2000, when the regulation for registering IP-1 companies to provide passive infrastructure was amended. By 2005, 20 per cent of the towers were shared mostly on a bilateral basis. Project MOST (Mobile Operators' Shared Towers), a joint initiative of the government and the Cellular Operators Association of India was launched in 2006, and in 2007, the Universal Service Obligation Fund's initiatives created further awareness about infrastructure sharing.

By 2008, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited also joined the fray and started sharing passive infrastructure. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India gave the green signal for sharing active infrastructure during the same period. In 2009, granting telecom licences to new operators provided a further impetus infrastructure sharing. All these efforts have today resulted in the operator-totower ratio going up to 1.8.

Infrastructure sharing is of two kinds: active and passive. Sharing of passive infrastructure refers to the sharing of towers (including physical sites, buildings, shelters, power supply and battery backup) and in-building solutions (including antenna systems as well as cabling and passive devices such as combiners and splitters). Active infrastructure sharing includes the sharing of antenna, feeder cables, base transceiver stations, transmission equipment and backhaul/backbone.The sharing of spectrum is not yet permitted in the country.

Passive infrastructure sharing is today considered a big business enabler for operators. This is because it helps in meeting business growth objectives; optimising investments and resources; enabling new lines of business; sharpening business focus, and enhancing cost efficiencies.

Active infrastructure sharing has not yet been adequately tapped. It permits a seamless sharing of equipment with frequencies ranging from 800 MHz to 2100 MHz, improves population coverage by allowing an operator to leverage another's network, reduces the capex required to roll out the network, reduces expenditure for operating the network in low-subscriber regions and facilitates quick network rollout. This is achieved via inter/intra-circle roaming, backhaul/backbone and transmission equipment. However, active sharing is yet to pick up in a big way.

The following is the possible future direction for passive infrastructure sharing from an operator's perspective:

  • The economies derived through infrastructure sharing should be utilised to bridge the teledensity gap.
  • Infrastructure providers should target lower EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation)in line with the operators' EBITDA to facilitate both a faster rollout by newer operators and expansion into rural areas.
  • The overall sharing coefficient of 1.8 is far from optimal. The average tenancy per tower should increase to a minimum of 2.5 for a sustainable business model for telecom operators as well as infrastructure providers.

    Spectrum sharing presents an opportunity that is yet to be explored and exploited. The following could be the future direction for active infrastructure sharing:

  • Various sharing possibilities should be tested and commercially deployed to make sure that the traffic of players is properly managed.
  • The possibility of sharing equipment with frequencies ranging from 800 MHz to 2100 MHz seamlessly should be explored fully. Some of the challenges involved in active infrastructure sharing are concerns related to asynchronous network expansion and the lack of the point of interface for interconnection.
    Sandip Basu, Whole-time Director and CEO, Loop Mobile and Telecom
  • In order to facilitate growth, perator requirements are mulifold. They include active and passive infrastructure sharing, intra-circle roaming, savings in opex and capex, partnerships based on trust and transparency, direct contribution to each other's top line growth, development of new payment models for mutual growth and constant evolution of networks.

    To ensure improved, effective and efficient operations, operators must think out of the box in two areas: services and technology. With regard to services, the following are important:

  • There should be a single-managed services vendor for multiple operators in one telecom circle.
  • Managed services should be centred on internet protocol service providers.
  • Services must be provided for new technologies.
  • A secured approach should be taken towards shared efficiencies.
  • The operator must provide an improved end-customer experience.
  • The issues on the technology side are:
  • The technology needs to be interoperable.
  • It should facilitate energy efficiency.
  • It should keep pace with the evolution in tower design.
  • Transparency is vital.
  • Quality differentiation is the key.
  • The operator should also have robust interactive systems.

    Operators, however, have to deal with several challenges. These include a possible conflict of interest between operators, an "as-is-where-is" approach, a sole focus on savings, increasing costs, lack of differentiators, security concerns and lack of ownership. To resolve these issues, the operators and infrastructure providers have to come together and work on a common platform to get the best out of the industry.
    Vikas Arya, Director, National Network Operations, Sistema Shyam TeleServices

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