Power Woes : Growth Interrupted

VoicenData Bureau
New Update

In the past few years, the enormous growth in mobile services has been

restricted largely to urban India. But today, the scene has changed completely.

'Go rural' is the latest buzz in the telecom circle, making rural India a

popular destination for telcos, infrastructure providers, VAS players and

vendors. However, even with a foolproof action plan in place, the major

challenge for them lies in providing connectivity at affordable prices to those

in rural and remote areas.


India might have gained the status of the country with the fastest growing

telecom industry, but there are major impediments that have to be overcome by

industry stake-holders. Basic issues like low literacy, shortage of spectrum,

energy and fuel crisis in rural India are not being addressed, and today, these

issues have become some of the biggest challenges for infrastructure service


Long power outages result in increased operating expenses of telecom

companies. There are around 80,000 villages in India without electricity, and in

villages that are already wired, power supply continues to be erratic. The

current per capita power consumption is about 612 kwh per year while the world

average is 2,596 kwh. So when it comes to setting up infrastructure in rural

areas, the operators and infrastructure companies are having a tough time.

Uniform electrification of rural India and setting up infrastructure towers is

an uphill task for both the government and private players and the recent global

fuel and energy crisis may stoke this power crisis.


Hampering Growth

Rural areas present a large untapped market for mobile operators to build

coverage and connectivity. The rural market is characteristically different from

the urban and semi-urban market, which poses new sets of challenges for

operators and infrastructure providers setting up infrastructure in remote

locations. While in some areas geographical barriers are problem, the other

major problem but the lack of power-all this when capex in rural areas is

already high.

Tower sites in rural areas are distinctly different from the urban. Normally,

urban sites are constructed on rooftops in densely populated areas. These urban

rooftop sites require 9 to 18 meter high towers. However, in rural areas the

towers need to be constructed higher, which means a higher capex.

"Power and energy scarcity is a major challenge while setting up towers in

rural areas. Moreover, it's an obstruction during the construction phase, as

this leaves us dependant on alternative sources like gensets which adds to our

input cost," says Probal Ghosal, CEO, Quippo Telecom Infrastructure.


Shortage in power and energy availability is hampering expansion plans and

has become a bottleneck to strong infrastructure. Due to the lack of regular

power supply in rural areas, cost of bridging electricity boards at the site is

high, diesel sourcing outlets are limited and operational cost of the site is

high, as most of the time the site is running on gensets.

Prakash Ranjalkar, coo, GTL Infrastructure says, "It is an undisputed fact

that better power and road infrastructure will help in rapid deployment of

telecommunications infrastructure in the hinterland."

"Longer waiting period and feasibility of grid power is difficult to

ascertain before site readiness; frequent and longer outages of grid power; and

accessibility in water-logged areas, especially during monsoons, are some common

problems while expanding in rural areas," he adds.


A growing population and increasing demands for electricity by the rapidly

growing industry sector is widening the gap between demand and distribution of

power furthur. This has led to a severe power crisis in rural India. Power

companies and state electricity boards are unable to provide electricity for

more than a few hours in a day in rural areas. Therefore, the process and cost

of rolling out telecom sites becomes prohibitively long and high. Moreover, due

to regular outages, sites require running of DG sets for several hours.

Electrical energy from DG costs more than double the cost of electricity board


Ajay Madan, CEO, Essar Telecom Infrastructure says, "Yes, power and fuel

crisis are major issues. The electricity board takes a long time to connect

sites to the grid. We have had to install two DG sets to provide power on a 24x7

basis. The energy bill for the operator also increases, as running on diesel is

costly. In addition, the O&M cost also increases, as diesel filling needs to be

more often and DGs need more frequent maintenance."

It is an undisputed fact that

better infrastructure of power will help rapid deployment of

telecommunication infrastructure in the hinterland

Prakash Ranjalkar, COO, GTL Infrastructure

There is a need for

sophisticated R&D producing bio-fuels from renewable energy resources like

agriculture residues

Deepinder Bedi,

deputy director, Tulip Telecom


The Savior

Wireless last mile infrastructure can have a positive impact on the economic

and social development of the rural areas in the country. Seventy percent of

India's population lives in rural areas that are underdeveloped in terms of

infrastructure. Inadequacies in generation, transmission and distribution as

well as theft and inefficient use of electricity restricts availability of


Deepinder Bedi, deputy director, Tulip Telecom points to a solution to the

power problem: "As we all are aware of fact that power outages in the rural

areas are very common and effect business operations, there is a need for

sophisticated R&D for producing bio-fuels from renewable energy sources like

agriculture residues. These bio-fuels can easily power the existing gensets."

Avoid Fuel Crisis

The fuel crisis has opened a plethora of concerns all over the world. And,

India being the second largest populated country in the world, the situation is

even grimmer. To safeguard their interest, telecom infrastructure companies are

working to adopt various measures to safeguard their interests. For instance,

GTL Infrastructure is putting in a lot of effort to ensure uptime even in the

most challenging conditions. At present, the company is testing energy

management solutions to improve the overall efficiency, which includes:

identification of energy efficient air-conditioning system with high EFR (energy

efficient ratio); free cooling/emergency free cooling concept of

air-conditioning systems to utilize cool ambient temperature for reducing

compressor running; wide input voltage range SMPS for better efficiency even at

lower input voltages; fuel optimizer method of operating DG interleaved with

battery back-up; and usage of energy star-rated products.


To monitor site parameters, GTL has created dedicated national network

operation centers, which will bring in operational efficiencies. The company has

also deployed dedicated O&M teams in each circle.

Telecom operators and infrastructure providers are exploring non-conventional

and renewable alternative energy sources like wind power, solar energy, and

bio-fuel for running infrastructure sites.

Quippo Telecom Infrastructure has employed several measures such as: higher

capacity battery banks for increased back up hours; optimized use of electricity

boards and diesel gensets through automation at sites; use of solar and wind

hybrid as alternate source of energy; implementation of diesel saving technology

like fuel savers; and installation of wide-band static voltage stabilizers to

maximize use of electricity board at the tower site.


Essar Telecom is working out a hybrid of solar and wind energy solutions. For

reducing the need for frequent diesel filling, large storage tanks are being

installed with special pilfer-proof caps.

Tulip will be rolling out solar installation soon, as the company is on a "Go

Green" mission. They aim to reduce the use of diesel generators substantially in

the near future. Tulip also provides connectivity using multiple wireless

technologies for access in the rural areas. Its solutions are IP-based using

wireless technology to deliver high quality of voice, data and video. The

company has also tried to address power challenges using high-grade, spike-proof

power interfaces and ruggedized radio equipments. A majority of their wireless

PoPs in the rural areas have uptimes in excess of 99%.

Major Demands

Ghosal of Quippo Telecom Infrastructure says, "With an aim to provide strong
infrastructure for telecom operators, we place certain demands on high

importance. Some of our distinguished demands are use of low power consumption

base transceiver station, and government guidelines directing the state

electricity board for prioritizing availability of electricity board to telecom

sites, and at subsidized rates."

The government should subsidize

the rural tower sites, and also active infrastructure sharing should be


Ajay Madan, CEO, Essar

Telecom Infrastructure

The rural potential is certainly

an area of prospects with its untapped market and increasing traffic

Probal Ghosal, CEO, Quippo Telecom Infrastructure

On the measures that need to be taken Ranjalkar of GTL Infrastructure says,

"Proactive support of electricity companies to provide power connections for

tower sites, simplified processes of approval from municipalities/gram

panchayats and uniform guidelines in all states for levies/fees are some

measures that will have a positive impact on growth of rural communications."

"The rural tower sites should be subsidized by the government and also active

infrastructure sharing should be allowed," says Ajay Madan of Essar Telecom


For any project to be successful, it is very important that the government

works closely with the corporate sector and with the agencies working at the

grassroot level. While the corporate sector can provide the necessary

technological and managerial support, the organizations working at the ground

level can create the necessary trust in such utilities among people.

Bedi of Tulip Telecom adds, "Although we have been able to address power

concerns using innovative techniques, stable power availability will allow us to

further increase the pace and reach of our endeavor."

Future Plans

Inspite of the huge energy crisis, Infrastructure and power companies are very
aggressive about rural expansion. At present, GTL infrastructure is operational

in 18 telecom circles with a total of 7,000 towers. Approximately 75% of these

are in rural areas and 5% of them are in most rural (USO) locations. The company

has a vision of creating 23,000 towers by 2011 and 60-65% of these will be rural

sites covering 50,000 villages.

Quippo Telecom has 1,854 rural sites, and it foresees demand and expansion in

various areas like rollout of sites for IP business also.

The company expects substantial rise in the number of site rollouts by

partnering with existing and newly licensed operators, as the present rural

teledensity of 9% is a huge opportunity. Quippo is also expecting incentivized

schemes by the government to compensate tenancy if it is less than three. This

can be a deviation to USOF subsidies.

Considering the robust plans for the future, it seems that telcos, and

infrastructure and power companies are committed and are working vigorously to

explore and expand their network reach to far-flung areas. But the power and

fuel crisis is coming in the way of a successful rollout.

Trai encouraging infrastructure sharing, could help greatly reduce the

pressure on power and infrastructure companies, helping them to deal with the

power and fuel crisis.

Arpita Prem