STL, a connectivity solutions company, has worked with the Indian government on several projects including Navy and Army Network Modernization, BharatNet and Smart Cities of Rajasthan, etc. KS Rao, CEO, Network and Software Services, STL shared a lot of things related to the company’s plans in India and the BharatNet project. Here’s all you need to know.
Q1. What do you think of the Minister of Finance’s announcement?
The FM announcement of Rs 19,000 crore as an additional expenditure for the BharatNet project is certainly a positive step and will help to rapidly expand broadband connectivity to rural areas. The year 2020 has proven the importance of bridging the rural divide. Government spending on digital infrastructure will be the key to economic growth and reduced income inequality. Developed economies spend around 1.5% of their GDP on building digital infrastructure, while we spend around 0.5%. India should devote around 1.2% of its GDP to infra-digital.
The 19,000 crore investment will help expand BharatNet Broadband connectivity to all remaining Gram Panchayats. The project will ensure the design, construction of the new network and the modernization of the existing network, with this government. It will also ensure the operation and maintenance (O&M) of the existing network and the new network, as well as all other related activities in PPP mode with sustainability deficit financing (VGF).
To date, the government has been able to connect approximately 1.56 lakh of the 2.5 lakh gram panchayats to broadband fiber. In addition, the government’s announcement to reduce BharatNet bandwidth tariffs en masse by 76% for commercial carriers will help carriers deliver affordable BharatNet-enabled cellular 4G broadband offers to rural customers. We believe that the introduction of sustainability gap financing will bring more transparency and ensure rapid deployment.
Once all gram panchayats and villages are connected to the dedicated fiber optic network, commercial telecom operators will be able to provide last mile connectivity to all villages, which will be useful in bridging the digital divide and harnessing the potential of the rural economy.
We welcome the government’s announcement on new funding mechanisms and operating models (such as PPP), however, the implementation of uniform rules of grip, the resolution of challenges associated with the ease of doing business and Building affordable use cases for rural areas is critical to the success of BharatNet.
Q2. BharatNet missed some deadlines. Besides funding, what other initiatives the government can take to accelerate deployment?
A key part of Bharatnet’s experience has been that it requires a more robust project management approach to design, build and operate. Although BharatNet is one of the largest projects in the country, it has been implemented by several government entities, resulting in implementation delay and serious quality issues.
A better approach would be to have an independent, professional with expertise, government-owned entity that uses funds from the dedicated Broadband Infrastructure Fund pool, builds cutting-edge digital networks, and works on the rental business model. fiber and infrastructure to Internet service providers. This wholesale model has already been launched in UK by BT Openreach and has been successfully implemented in several European countries like Spain, Portugal, France and Switzerland.
In addition, in order to ensure the security of telecommunications networks and the quality of the digital infrastructure in general, it is important to design and apply the highest standards and specifications. At present, India has failed to apply the best international standards in telecommunications equipment, which has resulted in the deployment of low quality and low cost optical fibers from neighboring countries, directly or via other countries. In this perspective, it is important that Indian standards essential to securing our digital infrastructure are formulated and made mandatory.
Q3. How STL contributes to the BharatNet project?
STL has worked with the government on many projects – army / navy network modernization, smart cities in Jaipur, Gandhinagar and Kakinada and also in BharatNet.
- Under Mahanet, STL has created robust internet connectivity for 8 districts, 60 Talukas and 3880 Gram Panchayats (GPs), spread over 18,550 km in Maharashtra. STL has launched a technology-based fiber deployment with reduced human intervention and enhanced security measures to ensure seamless project delivery.
- As part of the T-Fiber project, STL designs and builds an end-to-end rural broadband network in 17 districts, 6063 grams of Telangana panchayats. This will enable affordable broadband and broadband connectivity for the state’s 6 million rural citizens.
- With the announcement of BharatNet’s PPP, we also foresee an opportunity in the same direction.
Q4. What difference does STL create in rural empowerment thanks to digital?
We believe in creating value for rural communities through digital networks. We don’t stop at rural connectivity, we think of rural use cases that impact the lives of rural citizens. This is the winning combination. STL believes that digital programs must be able to increase opportunities and sources of income, improve living standards and ultimately put villages on the same level as cities. STL has worked closely with the government to achieve broadband and meaningful rural use cases, bridging the digital divide.
With this in mind, STL launched Garv, a digital platform for rural India, which will improve the usability and impact of these broadband highways. Garv offers useful services such as telemedicine, online tutoring, assisted e-commerce and online governance to rural citizens and creates change for the better.
Q5. STL’s plans to stimulate the rural deployment of broadband and 5G in the UK, European and US market?
STL is focused on expanding its fiber optic manufacturing capacities from 33 to 43 million fkm. We are also opening new facilities in the US and UK where we plan to open manufacturing plants in phases over the next 3 years. These facilities will be leveraged to support large fiber optic deployments in the US, Europe and UK to drive rural broadband and 5G deployments. STL recently announced the acquisition of the UK group Clearcomm, in order to enhance the presence of its network integration solutions in the UK and Europe.
We will also continue to invest in R&D on optical and wireless solutions including 5G.
Q6. Now, the BharatNet expansion project is open to private players. What is your opinion on the same?
The Union Cabinet had approved a revised implementation strategy for the BharatNet project by switching to PPP mode in 16 states to cover approximately 3,60,000 villages at a total cost of Rs 29,430 crore. Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL) has issued a global tender for the development, including creation, upgrade, operation, maintenance and use of BharatNet through the PPP model.
PPP has the potential to alleviate implementation challenges:
- A key part of the BharatNet experience has been that we lack the basic elements of a robust project management structure to design, build and operate it.
- One of the largest projects in the country has been implemented and controlled by a single division of the Department of Telecommunications.
- To this extent, the PPP will be very beneficial in speeding up the implementation.
- In addition, the Indian private sector has a strong capacity to develop high-end network infrastructure.
- There is enough precedence that PPP models can create value in projects of strategic importance. India has seen tangible results in PPPs for ports, Mumbai and Delhi subways, and around 20 health-related partnerships in southern states. But there are cases where PPP has shown limits.
An alternative approach that can also be explored
- Another approach would be to have an independent entity with expertise, owned by the government, which uses funds from the Broadband Infrastructure Fund, builds state-of-the-art digital networks, and works on the business model of leasing fiber and infrastructure in Canada. internet service. suppliers.
- This model, launched in the UK by BT Openreach, has been used successfully in a number of European countries such as Spain, Portugal, France and Switzerland.
Q7. Recently, DCC authorized the use of satellite connectivity in telecommunications networks. Do you have plans to get into satellite networks? What is your take on satellite connectivity? Will it replace fiber broadband?
DCC enables VSAT operators to provide satellite cellular link connectivity to telecommunications operators. It aims to provide uninterrupted mobile broadband coverage in remote and remote areas. With this move, satellite connectivity can also be used to establish Wi-Fi hotspots, measures to boost the provision of internet and voice services in remote and inaccessible areas.
At this time, we have no plans to go into satellite broadband. We are fully focused on the design and deployment of converged networks (wired + wireless) for the 5G era. We are also developing a portfolio of Open RAN solutions.
Satellite connectivity in telecommunications networks will help telecommunications companies provide service in remote areas where it is difficult to lay optical fiber. It will not replace fiber broadband. Optical fiber communication and satellite communication are the cutting edge technologies that are revolutionizing the world of telecommunications. Both technologies have their advantages and limitations, but when we combine them they can work wonders.