We spoke with STL’s CEO Connectivity Solutions Business, Ankit Agarwal, about the interplay of fixed and wireless technologies, as well as the changing state of the telecoms industry
With the coronavirus pandemic still raging all around the world, the value of connectivity has never been higher. Digitalisation is accelerating and data demand is booming, and this trend is expected to increase even more rapidly in the coming years with the emergence of new technologies, especially those surrounding 5G.
As a result, the lines between fixed and wireless networks are beginning to blur, as both sets of technologies become increasingly reliant on each other to deliver the highest quality service to customers.
“We truly believe that this convergence of networks is happening, both when we look at 5G and fibre-to-the-x, and on the other side with enterprise applications that are coming up,” explained Agarwal. “The network will require this combination of innovation across both wire line and wireless, and this is exactly the play that Sterlite Technologies Limited (STL) is focussed on.”
“We’re at the tipping point of network creation,” he added.
Increasing demand requires rapid roll outs
Naturally, with this increased demand, both now and projected for the future, operators and governments are investing heavily in network infrastructure, with this interest being increasingly shared by private equity. Indeed, many governments are positioning the latest communications technologies, like full fibre and 5G, as being crucial to alleviating the economic pressures of the coronavirus.
But key to unlocking the economic benefits of these technologies is having high quality infrastructure in place, something which is far from ubiquitous even in some of the most advanced markets around the world.
“In Europe, the UK and Germany stand out, where less than 5% of the networks actually have full fibre broadband,” said Agarwal. “There are countries like Spain and Poland that are far ahead when it comes to fibre, but overall the European market really needs to catch up.”
Flexibility is key
Networks must be built out rapidly to accommodate the growing demand, but it is not only scale and capacity that is important here. Above all, the networks must be flexible.
“It is becoming increasingly important to build a network that caters to multiple requirements. What we’re talking about is almost carpet coverage of major cities globally,” Agarwal explained. “Operators are thinking that they will need to cover ever square kilometre in order to prepare the networks for multiple applications, such as 5G, fibre-to-the-enterprise, fibre-to-the-small-cell, for smart city applications, etc.”
Flexibility is also at the heart of one of the industry’s hottest topics right now: Open RAN. This concept involves standardised RAN interfaces allowing the interoperation of various vendor’s equipment, effectively allowing the operators greater flexibility in their network design and leaving them less reliant on single vendors. Open RAN technology itself, while certainly still in its infancy, is gaining interest from some of the world’s largest operators.
“I think its particularly exciting to see that some of the large operators, like Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom and Orange, are taking a strong, focussed effort on not only participating in Open RAN discussions but are actively deploying it within their networks,” said Agarwal, noting that there will be many key learnings garnered from the technology’s field performance.
Monetising the network
Rolling out the latest technologies at scale is vital, but it is also expensive. New strategies are being devised around the world to help raise the funds required for full fibre and 5G, with one of the most prominent being the sale and lease-back of the operators’ tower infrastructure. In the past year, infrastructure specialists like Europe’s Cellnex have been taking advantage of this trend, buying up thousands of towers in billion dollar transactions, most recently paying around €9 billion for CK Hutchison’s entire European tower portfolio.
“We are starting to see a huge focus on where to prioritise the network. A large amount of operators are essentially monetising their tower assets and putting the cash raised back into building infrastructure,” said Agarwal, who noted that a similar process is taking place with fibre.
Services will be king
But, of course, while the telecoms industry is clearly heavily focussed on expanding its networks, turning a profit infrastructure alone. In fact, it is the services this infrastructure facilitates, both for consumer and enterprise markets, that will be the real battlefield for the operators. Each must find a way to differentiate their services from those of their rivals, expanding into new verticals and reaching out to create diverse industry partnerships, from smart homes to media content.
“Ultimately the telecom operators will compete on services, rather than just the infrastructure that they hold. It’s just a matter of time,” said Agarwal.
It is an exciting time for the telecoms industry, full of convergence and innovation. We are in an era where operators must adapt quickly to a rapidly changing landscape, embracing the latest technologies and strategies, or else find themselves left behind by their more ambitious and enterprising rivals.
You can watch our full interview with STL’s Ankit Agarwal from the link. Want to learn more about STL’s technology offerings? Visit their website now