INFRASTRUCTURE: A Ductile Business

VoicenData Bureau
New Update

Did you hear this–the duct manufacturing and laying business is going to be

bigger in India than in China?


How come? Everyone thought that China was the bigger market, despite India’s

high growth rate…


David Corey, president, Dura-Line Inc, who’s been looking at China closely,

explains why. "Most of the economic spend in China is along the

eastern coast… and that’s not a big geography," he points out.

Is that the reason why Dura-Line is turning much of its focus towards India?

"Oh yes," Corey’s is happily open about it. And the frequency of his

India visits–he makes it a point to fly to India at least every 10 months–only

confirms his admittance.


The Party’s not Forever…

Service providers have been on a duct-laying spree for the past three years

or so. Bharti was among the first companies to start the phenomenon. In fact,

Dura-Line India was set up as joint venture with Bharti, in 1997. (The JV was

over in 2000.) So until the previous year Bharti remained the largest customer

of Dura-Line.


however, have changed with the bulk of Bharti’s infrastructure in place. The

company has laid more than 18,000 km of OFC, out of a planned 24,000 km.

Naturally therefore, Bharti today accounts for only 20 percent of Dura-Line’s


But before Bharti would cease to be a revenue source, Tata-VSNL appeared on

the scene with their infrastructure plans.


These days, they are busy doing what Bharti did earlier–building a

countrywide fiber optic infrastructure, for their domestic long distance (DLD)

services. So duct laying is in full swing by Tata, which is giving Dura-Line 50

percent of its revenues now.

After that? "Well, we recently bagged a Rs 15-crore BSNL contract. And

we hope to win more such orders in future, as the state-owned operators like

BSNL and MTNL become more and more conscious on the quality front," Vijay

Kiyawat, managing director, Dura-Line India, tells optimistically.



inaugurating the Dura-Line—Plumettaz Academy at Goa

And when BSNL’s fiber infrastructure too is in place?

Well, the question doesn’t give Corey and Kiyawat a shock. Probably, they’ve

already pondered over it. "The business is not going to remain big within

five years from now. Bulk of the fiber optics infrastructure in India would be

in place by then," Kiyawat spells it out.

How Long Will the Party Last?

For those who think they are through once the ducts have been laid, the

party ends after five years. But for those who are willing to climb up the

value-chain, it doesn’t. After all, duct laying is only a small part of the

infrastructure deployment operation. OFC splicing is the next, among a host of

other tasks. And even when the deployment is over, the services business will be

there. But more about the services later…

Let’s first look at the composition of the duct manufacturing market in



The served market for ducts today is approximately 100,000 km. There are a

large number of players including Dura-Line, Pioneer Polyfeb, Jain Irrigation,

and Reliance. There are also about 40 players in the small-scale sector.









2003-04 2004-05


Betting Big on India


Armed with New Offerings


revenue projections include

manufacturing and aftermarket services

Revenues (in Rs crore) are projections, except for fiscal 2001—02

Dura-Line, given the backing of a global engineering and R&D facility,

has managed to grab a market share of more than 40 percent. Moreover, telecom

duct manufacturing is a dedicated activity for Dura-Line, whereas for most of

its competitors it’s a telecom-too affair. This has helped the company become

a preferred supplier for some of the leading private telcos.


All said, the duct market has a declining trend, and a player must think of

more than just technology and quality for survival and growth. What’s Dura-Line

doing to cope up with negative market dynamics?


Jetting–The Push Advantage

against the conventional method of pulling the cable into the duct using a

rope, the jetting technique uses a mechanical feeder to push the cable

into the duct. A powerful airstream, generated by a compressor, is used to

guide the cable through the duct. This technique has distinct advantages:
The cable

is not subjected to stress encountered in the conventional methods

significantly prolongs the life of the cable
In pulling,

the force on the cable actually pulls it into hidden bends

exponential frictional force is created which further stresses the cable
Long cable

lengths are not possible with pulling. (At a demonstration conducted by

Dura-Line, 1 km length of cable was successfully jetted, in approximately

20 minutes.)

"Well, we’ve worked out a simple yet effective formula. We say that

every year, 15 percent of out sales must come from new offerings. This helps us

fight declining market trends and find new revenue streams," Corey reveals.


This partly explains how Dura-Line started looking at the OFC splicing,

termination, and link testing services, including supply and installation of

allied accessories like joint closures to cover the network implementation


The company is also carrying out OFC characterization for network planners to

provide them greater flexibility in the choice of network equipment. And later,

by the time most of the optic fiber network in the country will be up and

running, Dura-Line plans to be deeply into network maintenance. This market is

estimated to be Rs 100 crore as of now, and is largely a green-field domain.

Is There a First-mover Advantage?

Much of the hope for this new market rests on the assumption that service

providers will like to outsource the network maintenance part. And if that

happens, Dura-Line thinks it will make hay. What about the small-scale

competitors who will sprout up as soon as the market becomes visible?

Kiyawat seems to have the answer, "A service provider will think at

least a hundred times before outsourcing maintenance of his network, because

that’s the lifeline of his business. A major collapse can do irreparable

damage to him. So he will give contracts only to those who have excellent

understanding of the network. And here, we’ve got a clear edge."

Dura-Line plans to gain the lead by leveraging two things. One, a high level

of familiarity with the installed networks, across various service providers,

which comes from its has involvement during the duct laying phase. Two, of

course, is technology.

Mindshare, the Training Way

Of late, service providers have begun to realize the importance of best

practices in duct laying, splicing and other operations.

A cursory look at just about any duct and cable installation site will reveal

the shoddy quality of work and lack of professionalism in work practices. There

is a crying need to raise the level of awareness about the proper installation

of a future-proof fiber optic network. Considering the fact that once laid,

ducts are supposed to have a life of 50 years, field practices related to laying

of duct and installation of cable need to be toned up. Just as a sound and

enduring superstructure requires a strong solid base, the same way a long-life

reliable network can only be built on a properly installed duct and cable


The problem is not with the equipment or the tools. The problem is one of

using them properly, of awareness, discipline, and training.

It is in this backdrop that Dura-Line has set up an academy–the Dura-Line—Plumettaz

Academy–for training the likes of project managers and site engineers in the

service provider and the contractor communities.

The purpose of the academy is to improve the quality, versatility, and life

of fiber optic networks through the promotion and employment of best practices

and most advanced techniques for telecom duct laying and cable installation. The

academy-certified engineers will help bridge the gap between the technology that

is available and its full absorption and implementation in the field.

Ashok Kapoor, director, Plumettaz Academy, says, "Programs offered at

the academy will help develop a pool of certified and qualified people in this

important area of infrastructure development. The method of instruction will

cover best practices, both in the classroom and hands-on in the field, through

simulation of various field hurdles in the land adjacent to the academy

building." Kapoor has been the man behind the setting up of the academy.

Prithipal Singh, CMD, BSNL, who inaugurated the academy, located in Goa, was

quite appreciative of the idea.

Dura-Line’s biggest customer, Tata has shown keen interest in the programs

being offered by the academy. It will have each of its contractors send one

person each for training. "Other service providers, including some overseas

ones, will also be sending persons for training," Kiyawat informs. It is

learnt that BSNL too is interested, as none of it’s training centers are

currently equipped with the hands-on training facilities being provided by the


With the setting up of the academy, Dura-Line has made a smart move. It will

help the company grab a larger mindshare in the service provider space, and,

create a following in the project managers and engineers community. All, of

course, only if the programs continue to be of high quality and dynamically

adapt to the needs of a variety of field problems.

The academy apart, Dura-Line is also getting ready with newer breed of

products, to cater to last-mile broadband and campus network installations. It’s

already come out with the microduct line of products for the purpose.

Deepak Kumar