The Convergence Business arm of Sterlite Power aims to create a pan-India, efficient optical ground wire network to deliver high-speed data

The success of India’s road infrastructure development PPP model should be replicated in scaling telecom infrastructure: N K Panda, Sterlite Power

Sterlite Power is in the business of power transmission infrastructure. N K Panda currently heads the Convergence Business at Sterlite Power, which aims to create a nationwide fibre optic network primarily on power utility infrastructure. Panda specializes in greenfield telecom ventures and loves building businesses from zilch.

In an interaction with N K Panda, Voice&Data explores the strengths of Sterlite Power and its efforts to make India digitally progressed realizing its smart city and fibre optic connection plans.

Few excerpts: 

Voice&Data: With a little bit of a background on Sterlite Power Utility and its offerings, could you share how the company has grown to offer new-age solutions along with the telecom industry’s evolution in terms of voice and data?

N K Panda: Sterlite Power is a leading integrated power transmission developer and solutions provider globally, focused on addressing complex challenges in the sector by tackling the key constraints of time, space, and capital.

With Power Transmission projects of over ~12,500 circuit km and 22,719 MVA in India and Brazil, the company boasts of having an industry-leading portfolio of power conductors, EHV cables, OPGW and offers solutions for upgrading, uprating and strengthening existing networks.

Sterlite Power’s Convergence Business has been formed with a vision to unlock the transformative power of the digital communications networks in India, by building reliable and high-speed communication networks riding over utility lines. With India significantly behind the global standards for internet speeds and fibre kilometres per capita, we are competitively placed to tap into this opportunity and provide access to the internet and mobile phones to people around the country.

Sterlite Power’s Convergence business, which operates at the confluence of the power & telecom sector, is working to solve this perennial infrastructure issue and aims to create a pan India communication infrastructure.

While India is witnessing exponential data consumption but lacks reliable telecom infrastructure, which is restraining the growth of the Digital communications sector. India’s ambitious initiatives like Digital India, Smart Cities mission and broadband for all can only be realized if the basics of having reliable and efficient telecom infrastructure can be put in place.

Sterlite Power’s Convergence business, which operates at the confluence of the power & telecom sector, is working to solve this perennial infrastructure issue and aims to create a pan India communication infrastructure.

Voice&Data: What are Sterlite Power’s current goals and how is it bound to meet the requirements of today’s telecommunications industry in both rural and urban India?

The Convergence Business arm of Sterlite Power aims to create a pan-India, efficient optical ground wire network to deliver high-speed data that runs over existing utility lines. This is in line with the Government vision of ‘Connecting, Propelling and Securing India’ as outlined in the National Digital Communication Policy (NDCP) 2018.

One of the Convergence led approaches to have high quality, reliable, and robust fibre network is to leverage the existing utility network assets. Utilities like power, gas and water already have an existing omnipresent network that can be leveraged to overcome the communication infrastructure challenges. Utility assets can be used to build an alternate failsafe network to connect all state capitals, district headquarters, and even extend it to every household.

India has more than 10 million circuit km of transmission and distribution lines, which shows its enormous potential as compared with just 1.5 million km fibre deployed by telecom service providers. This omnipresent utility network across the breadth of the country is poised to provide a reliable, robust, and secure optical fibre infrastructure. With the potential to connect the remote areas within the country, Sterlite Power empowers the telecom sector to make India an all-inclusive knowledge economy.

Voice&Data: Can you elaborate on Sterlite’s Convergence technology? What are its significant advantages and how can telecom infra providers leverage the technology?

Sterlite Power leverages the utility infrastructure for high-speed connectivity requirements. The optic ground wire fibre network, which runs at the top of the power transmission towers, is far superior compared to the conventional underground counterpart which faces frequent damages on account of continuous road expansion, utility construction & maintenance and high terrestrial interventions.

Sterlite Power, on the other hand, provides reliable, efficient and scalable dark fibre solutions to end customers like telcos, Internet Service Providers and wholesale carriers. The business has also built co-location facilities across transmission routes and power substations, for enabling communication service providers to house their telecom equipment. These facilities are provided in a highly secured, theft/sabotage proof location inside the substation, with more than 99.9% service availability including uninterrupted power supply, cooling, remote monitoring and surveillance facilities.

Gurugram is one of the first cities where we have created a world-class optical fibre infrastructure to support applications for the current and future needs of the city.

Voice&Data: How is Sterlite Power instrumental in enabling Digital India plans with specific attention to smart cities?

N K Panda: Sterlite Power is capable of supporting cities that are fast evolving to be ‘smarter’. Our smart city fibre solution addresses the city’s communication infrastructure challenges through innovative public-private partnership (PPP) models. The business offers favourable long-term partnership to design, build, finance, operate & maintain an optical fibre network, which can act as the digital backbone for all smart infrastructure in the city.

Gurugram is one of the first cities where we have created a world-class optical fibre infrastructure to support applications for the current and future needs of the city. The optical fibre cable network will power data-centric services across the city and will provide connectivity to government buildings, business clusters, and critical applications like security, surveillance, and e-governance, thus leading to a safer and smarter Gurugram city.

Voice&Data: As India has a strong vision for Made in India and its association with Digital India plans, how does Sterlite believe that Public-Private Partnerships will cause a difference to the industry?

N K Panda: The advancement of new technologies like 5G, IoT, M2M will be crucial for making Digital India mission a great success. These technologies demand robust and high capacity optical fibre connectivity across the nation for their efficient operations. This represents a solid case for the deployment of a nationwide Optical Fibre Communication network, which can be a costly affair for government and service providers.

Sterlite Power believes that Public-Private Partnerships can be an excellent option in saving government funds that can be used in other critical areas like healthcare, education etc. PPPs will enable faster development of the telecom grade network, low cost of ownership for the telecom service providers, and higher uptime with a reliable network. A case in example is the ongoing BharatNet project, which actively got started in 2014, where Government is investing in planning, building and maintaining this network, while the result could have been very different if private players were encouraged to have deeper involvement and more skin in the game.

Sterlite Power is also engaged in utilizing transmission towers for building new telecom sites. Currently, there are 1.2 million transmission towers as against 0.5 million telecom towers.

Voice&Data: As cost-effective solutions are mission-critical to today’s telecom industry, how is Sterlite Power providing infra solutions that offer cost advantages to the consumer?

N K Panda: Currently, the Communication service providers spend Capex in rolling out expensive and time-consuming fibre infrastructure and also incur ongoing costs to maintain this network. Sterlite Power enables faster access to a far superior and vast communication network at a very optimal cost to the customers without the hassles of building, owning and maintaining these networks. In a nutshell, Sterlite Power Convergence enables its end customers to move from Capex to Opex model. This is a great respite to the telecom sector which is reeling under heavy debts to the tune to ~7 lakhs crores. Besides, it helps the utilities with a new revenue stream so it’s a win-win for everyone.

Sterlite Power is also engaged in utilizing transmission towers for building new telecom sites. Currently, there are 1.2 million transmission towers as against 0.5 million telecom towers. These transmission towers can host telecom antennas and provide them with fibre connectivity along with power. This can help the towercos and telcos drastically reduce their spend on diesel, as this industry is the largest consumer of diesel in India.

Voice&Data: In your opinion what must telecom policymakers and other decision-makers do to help the telecom industry in India grow, enable deeper digital penetration and launch policies that would strengthen the ecosystem?

N K Panda: Indian Telecom Policy and decision-makers have published great plans and policies namely Bharatnet, National Digital Communication Policy (NDCP) 2018 and National Broadband mission. What lacks is timely execution and the ability to speed up as per needs. A lot of ambitious targets have been mentioned in NDCP but the execution of those ambitions is key to the revival of this sector.

The need of the hour is to reconsider the fees charged by the Government for auction, revenue share of various services provided, tax clarity, fast track resolution of all pending cases and litigations and quicker approvals.

Indian Telecom Infrastructure still has a long way to go and requires more of Public-Private partnership (PPP) models. The success of various PPP models in road infrastructure development should be replicated in the Telecom Infrastructure sector. Today, India has the most extensive PPP program globally in the roads sector. More than 560 road projects comprising a total length of 45,000 km with an estimated investment exceeding ₹ 2 Lakh crore have been awarded on a PPP basis. The same spirit, if implemented in this sector, can ensure faster scale-up and thereby making various digital initiatives a grand success.

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