The government is working on a proposal that would benefit incumbent service providers and infrastructure firms to significantly increase fibre deployment that could facilitate Wi-Fi hotspots and enhance fourth generation or 4G coverage in the country.
“We are working on a scheme wherein service operators or infrastructure companies can take fibre from BharatNet to the towers. This is apart from taking fibre for mobile connectivity,” telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan told ET.
Currently, only 22% of the 4.70 lakh telecom towers in India are fiberised, which is an essential backhaul requirement for high-speed data network deployments.
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is planning to provide access to optic fibre cable (OFC) deployed under the ambitious BharatNet initiative to nearby telecom towers that would also eventually help in rolling out public Wi-Fi hotspots.
“Tower companies are keen to take fibre to the towers. Telcos want to upgrade to 4G, and for that they need fibre,” the top official added.
The department officials have recently held discussions with telecom infrastructure firms led by lobby group Tower and Infrastructure Providers Association (Taipa), and asked the players to speed up fiberisation of tower infrastructure.
The Delhi-based group has proposed free Right-of-Way (RoW) and monetisation opportunities for the government-owned dark fibre.
Bharti Infratel chairman Akhil Gupta-headed Taipa felt that the demand must come from the service providers, and tower firms, owing to growing data demand, would take up fibre distribution in tier-I cities, to start with.
“Due to public Wi-Fi roll out, all telecom service providers have agreed to fast-track 4G roll outs,” Sundararajan said, adding that there was a big acceleration in 4G activities as the government mulls viability gap funding (VGF) under the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) for Wi-Fi initiative.
The industry estimates suggest that fibre-connected towers would grow from 90,000 at present to 330,000 by 2020.
“Tower companies should either deploy fibre at their own to existing tower base rapidly or use the new hyper-scale BharatNet networks that are connecting rural India,” said Anand Agarwal, group chief executive of Sterlite Tech.
Agarwal said it would be a win-win situation as the initiative would improve service quality with a reduction in deployment time, and added that the ecosystem should achieve 4G network requirements and move faster towards 100% fiberisation.
Taipa’s director general Tilak Raj Dua said “DoT and Taipa have a discussion on the role of infrastructure providers to realise the BharatNet initiative and has assured long-term lease of fibre, taking fibre from the gram panchayat or nearest block to connect telecom towers, and further monetisation of the dark fibre and free RoW, among others”.
With a massive growth in mobile Internet and smartphone penetration, the country’s infrastructure segment, according to analysts, would need another 100,000 new towers in the next couple of years.
The Centre’s ambitious BharatNet project that was originally conceived in 2011 under the Manmohan Singh-led UPA-II regime, after missing previous deadlines, aims to connect 2.5 lakh gram panchayats or village blocks by March 31, 2019.