India’s existing telecom network network infrastructure “just isn’t sufficient to run 4G networks,” says Rod Smith, executive vice president at American Tower. Smith in the JP Morgan 49th Annual Global Technology, Media and Communications Conference on Monday said that the company is witnessing a “large number” of new tower sites built in India and Africa. In 2020, American Tower is said to have constructed around 5900 new sites across its markets with the majority reported to have been in the Indian market. In late April, the company in its first quarter earning presentation said that it expects to construct 6500 new sites across its markets. American Tower is said to own and operate over 76,000 sites across India as of March 31, 2021. Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio are said to be the telecom operators engaged with American Tower in India.
Carrier Investments Has Not Slowed Down in India: ATC EVP
Smith said that the company has not witnessed a “slowdown in carrier investments due to the pandemic” despite India being “hit probably the hardest.”
“So, throughout the pandemic we are guiding towards 6500 new builds this year and about 4500 of those will come in India,” Smith said in the JP Morgan 49th Annual Global Technology, Media and Communications Conference.
The American Tower EVP said that India will continue to witness the “densification” of the telecom networks.
“So, again in India it is a place where the current infrastructure is just not capable of supporting the kind of coverage capacity and quality that the subscribers demand on a 4G network,” Smith said.
Similar sentiments were earlier shared by Vivek Raina, the chief executive officer at Excitel in an interview with TelecomTalk in February. Raina said that the call drop issues and the “poor” quality of service (QoS) experienced by the telecom users in India are “primarily attributed to the country’s low investment in fiber and backhaul infrastructure.”
“The fact that less than 20% of the towers in India are backhauled compared with an average of 80% in countries like the US, China, and Korea emphasizes the need for an effective policy that gives due importance to fiber deployments,” Raina said.
The Excitel CEO said that the fiber networks are the “most viable medium” to offer enhanced data capacity and enhance the voice calling quality.
“Industry reports reveal that India currently deploys an average of 15 million kilometres of fibre every year whereas current demands indicate it needs to increase to at least 50 million kilometres per year,” Raina said.
American Tower Witnessing “Little Bit of A Slowdown” Due to COVID Lockdowns in India
Meanwhile, Smith said that the company is “working with charitable foundations that are supporting India.” The American Tower EVP said “many” of the company employees have “donated money to India relief funds around COVID” and that American Tower is “matching that as well.”
“So in India, there was some significant lockdowns, same thing in Brazil, we are seeing a little bit of a slowdown in terms of new build,” Smith said.
In late April, Tom Bartlett, president of American Tower in the first quarter earnings call also said that there could be “some timing issues associated” with the building of new tower sites. The American Tower president is “certain” that the new tower sites will be built by the company but highlighted that the “timing” will be an issue.
“Clearly lives saved is more important than towers built, so there could be some timing issues there,” Bartlett said in the first quarter earnings call.
In a release on Wednesday, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said that the country recorded 208,921 Covid cases in the past 24 hour period. In early May, the country recorded over 400,000 daily Covid cases, with the release on Wednesday highlighting that the country recorded less than 300,000 daily news for “ten consecutive days now.” It has to be noted that multiple regions across India including Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh are under lockdown until May 31, 2021. Further, certain regions including Karnataka and Rajasthan have already announced the extension of lockdown until June 7 and June 8 respectively.