By Manishika Miglani
The Indian telecom sector has experienced phenomenal growth in the recent past and is rising exponentially. But alongside growth, the sector has witnessed major energy challenges with “going green” becoming a necessity more than choice.
The energy cost for telecom operators is becoming as large as 25 percent of the OPEX with increase in the price of diesel and green house gas emissions as other areas of concern.
Tata Teleservices is one such operator which came up with Project Optimus to address these aforesaid issues to focus on cost reductions, power saving, energy efficiency of mobile telecom networks and reducing associated carbon emissions. Under the project, the telco has successfully done indoor to outdoor BTS conversions for around 16,000 sites in the last two years.
In an interview with Voice&Data, Saji Mathew, Vice President and Head Network Implementation and Infrastructure Management, Tata Teleservices talked about this initiative, the challenges faced during its execution and the expectations from the government in consolidating the green telecom movement.
Voice&Data: How do you manage your network of sites and what are the problems you face?
Saji Mathew: Tata Teleservices as an operator depends upon all the passive infrastructure service providers like Indus, Viom, Infratel and the likes… So we have taken sites from these companies on a lease basis and we have put up our electronic equipment paying rental lease charges. So that’s how we are managing our network of sites.
While doing this, the Telecom operator has very little control on the passive infrastructure deployment at sites because the priorities of Infrastructure provider (IP) are different and there are lots of restrictions from the perspective of environment, landlords and space availability for green telecom. So, that is when we had decided upon forming a Project Optimus team with transformation of our indoor sites to outdoor sites.
Voice&Data: Can you elaborate on Project Optimus?
Saji Mathew: Project Optimus was started in 2010 to achieve optimization of network operation cost and reduction in carbon footprint of Tata Teleservices. A cross functional team called “The Applied Research Team” was formed to work on various areas to reduce the operational expenses of the network. This department was responsible for developing customized solutions, working closely with vendors, carrying out proof of concept implementations (prototype and pilot projects) and developing models for rollouts and monitoring implementation.
As part of this initiative, the team devised solutions that helped Tata Teleservices achieve an annualized OPEX savings to the tune of over Rs 98 crore and annualized carbon savings to the tune of 80K TCO2e.
In addition to this, we are constantly evaluating new ideas and incorporating various changes in existing initiatives. The challenge was how to improvise existing product considering the changing telecom technical-commercial requirements. The periodic reviews have helped us to work out best possible solutions for improving on the carbon footprint for TTSL and analyzing cost-benefit equations for the new solutions generated.
Voice&Data: What were the challenges faced during the execution?
Saji Mathew: Some of the challenges that we faced are:
- Space availability for Indoor to outdoor conversion: A lot of times, these towers are placed in areas where conversion of units from indoor to outdoor is not possible. The lack of space hinders conversion. Presently, we have been deploying the solutions on ground-based sites and also exploring to get the same implemented on roof top sites as there is a challenge for the infrastructure providers to obtain necessary clearance from landlord/respective authority due to additional space occupancy.
- Limited options are available for operators at distributed IP controlled tower sites as all IPs are not ready to go full hog due to perceived issues from their partner vendors and landlords.
- Criticality of equipment inside the shelter: Critical equipment inside the shelter often prevents conversion of a site. The towers are technology-intensive investment and any decision on conversion has to keep in account the criticality of equipment placed.
Voice&Data: Is it still running? How are these solutions beneficial? Are the solutions that you have suggested scalable?
Saji Mathew: We have tested our solutions across the country in different operating environments. The results have been very encouraging and scalable. We have seen successful returns on our investments and the solutions are beneficial for reasons such as:
- Elimination of Air-conditioning and power consumption reduction
- Outdoor Conversion of BTS
- Free cooling Units (FCU)
- Solar Hybrid System for BTS (Solar – Battery- DG Hybrid system)
- Wheeling of renewable energy-wind power/solar power wheeling for data centers
- DG free roll-out at new sites
Voice&Data: What percentage of area in the country is covered by these services?
Saji Mathew: Project Optimus is being implemented in a phased manner and so far we have managed to implement it on 20 percent of our sites.
Voice&Data: What is the model that TTSL follows talking about the indoor-outdoor conversions undertaken?
Saji Mathew: We have come up with a Fixed Cost Model (or FCM), which is based on parameters such as load and the grid power availability in that area. We have fixed up tariff card for each circle based on the profile of the sites. So, it is actual cost converted into a semi fixed tariff card. When we are doing it as an indoor converted to outdoor, our tariff moves from indoor tariff to outdoor tariff, which basically eliminates air conditioner operation cost. So, this is the business case model for us on account of outdoor conversions.
Voice&Data: How can the Government contribute in providing a favorable environment for green telecom to flourish?
Saji Mathew: The government should definitely improve power availability because the telecom operator or infrastructure service providers run the generators sets by compulsion only as there is a huge issue in fuel management when it comes to DG operations. So this is a major contributor to our network downtime and serves as a utility power.
Voice&Data: What is TTSL’s roadmap for green telecom?
Saji Mathew: TTSL recognizes that the journey to a cleaner and greener environment has just started. The company is working relentlessly on increasing its energy reduction initiatives both in spread and intensity as well as expanding its green energy portfolio by embracing various innovations and developing solutions. Hence, TTSL continues to adopt a multi-focused approach in the following areas:
- Improving efficiencies in its existing sites
- Working with its IPs and Telecom OEMs to increase the number and geographic spread of Indoor BTS to Outdoor BTS conversions.
- Replacing the conventional energy sources with renewable (green) energy sources for its MSCs.
- Generation of renewable power at its BTS sites by working with renewable energy service companies (RESCOs).
- Introducing revolutionary battery technologies like Lithium-Ion and higher efficiency DGs like diesel turbine generator sets.
Voice&Data: What are the other CSR/Sustainiabilty initiatives TTSL undertakes?
Saji Mathew: TTSL’s CSR activities are based on three broad indicators of development namely:
- Human Capital: This refers to the individual’s innate abilities, talents, knowledge, skills and experience that make them economically productive and applies to our employees as well as the communities we work with.
- Social Capital: This indicator focuses on creating social wealth for the communities that we partner with.
- Economic Capital: There is a huge focus on creation of livelihood opportunities for the people which is directly related to the economic development of the country. TTSL undertakes initiatives and projects which are geared towards livelihood creation, employability and entrepreneurship to empower communities.
Projects under these three core areas focus on education keeping in account employability, employee volunteering and employment generation.
Voice&Data: What are the company’s plans to address CO2e emissions in next 1-2 years?
Saji Mathew: We are working continuously to expand the scope of Project Optimus in its efficiency and in its reach. We have already started a project in collaboration with TICET team (Tata Teleservices IIT Bombay Centre for Excellence in Telecommunication) to design a scalable solution which could help achieve our green ambitions across our 40,000 BTS sites while meeting our financial goals.
TTSL continues further deployment of Indoor to Outdoor conversion through OD Cabinet and Free Cooling units and we have plans around 2000 plus sites with OD Cabinet and 5000 sites with Free Cooling Units in the coming year.