5G sans Fiberisation—Possible? Telecom operators have realised that Fiberisation is the pivot for riding the 5G or emerging technologies bandwagon. If from 2G to 4G was about rationalising capacity by telcos, 5G is more about fibre. Fiberisation will surely meet the present requirement of bandwidth and future technologies. However, India has about 25-30% level of Fiberisation versus 70% that is required for 5G technology rollout. According to industry experts, Fiberisation is a must to address the digital divide and to reach all parts of the country to empower the citizens. Since all the cell towers in the country at present are not connected through fibre due to its paucity, there’s a big challenge. Growth of fibre is the foremost priority for the ongoing exponential increase in data demand and improved quality of services.
Although telecom operators have plans around Fiberisation, still rock-solid plans and roadmaps are required when it comes to Fiberisation. Reliance Jio is leading the way on Fiberisation and Airtel and VIL have also decided to almost double their fibre deployment for 4G/5G. However, Fiberisation is very expensive and telcos are already saddled with a staggering debt of around Rs 4.3 lakh crore.
Initiatives by Indian Telecom Operator
Reliance Jio already has plans to reach 50 million households- or about a fifth of India’s population with fibre optic, but there’s no timeline to that. Bharti Airtel has plans to have a combination of microwave, wireless backhaul and fibre over the next three years. VIL also plans to roll out fibre optic.
Fiberisation has been on the government’s agenda for quite long with the program, BharatNet, erstwhile National Optic Fibre Network (NOFN), which aims to provide digital connectivity to every rural household. Although it has witnessed many hiccups, the government is still optimistic about the project. And therefore, in the budget on February 1, 2020, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had proposed to allocate Rs 6,000 crores in 2020-21 to ‘BharatNet’ programme to link one lakh gram panchayats by providing Fibre to the Home connections (FTTH).
Taking a holistic view here, Fiberisation is a national issue as it could and is playing a very important role in making Digital India a reality. As India leapfrogs to the next wave of communication revolution around digital, it should prepare for new models and Fiberisation can play a crucial role here. Collaboration between various stakeholders for rolling out Fiberisation is a prudent step.
Today, OFC (Optical Fibre Cable) connectivity is available in all state capitals, districts, HQs and up to the block level. Existing fibres of PSUs --BSNL, Railtel and Power Grid—are already in use. Now, just imagine the power of sharing of existing fibre assets among telcos, avoiding duplication of assets and stepping up fibre outreach.
However, if each player were to reach this level individually, Indian telecom operators may need investments of up to Rs 1 lakh crore. Network transformation to 5G requires deep Fiberisation in the access network with high fibre counts. Each 5G front haul will require one fibre pair with a latency of 1 millisecond. In such a scenario, collaboration is the only key for fructifying pan-India digital connectivity dreams. Quoting Mattie Stepanek here—“Unity is strength. . . when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved."