Optics and photonics are playing an important role in India’s economic development, thanks in large part to progress in the telecommunications industry. Here we explore the recent growth in the industry and look at some of the major players and the technology they offer.
Gary Boas, Contributing Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
The telecom sector in India has seen
tremendous growth in the past decade, particularly following a series of government
efforts in the 1990s. These began in earnest with the announcement of the first
National Telecom Policy in 1994 and continued with the establishment of the Telecom
Regulatory Authority of India Act in 1997 and the introduction of the second National
Telecom Policy in mid-1999. Additional efforts in the early part of the past decade
paved the way for a boom in the past several years. This witnessed investments of
$8.5 billion in the telecom sector, $5.5 million of which came in the form of Foreign
Direct Investment, or FDI.
Much of the attention in this sector – indeed, much of the
growth – has focused on the area of wireless telephony. With no subscriber
base at all 10 years ago, India had roughly 359 million subscribers by 2009 and
has been adding 10 million more every month. This makes it the second largest market
in the world after China.
Companies believed this growth would continue unabated and committed
to tremendous overcapacity, assuming that the market would take care of it. It didn’t,
and the telecom sector is now suffering the consequences. Last November, India’s
Business Standard cited a report by Credit Suisse, Race to the Bottom, that predicted
a “severe margin contraction” and a drop in earnings per share of companies.
The telecom boom of the late aught years is beginning to look a lot like a bubble.
Ready for growth
The telecom sector in India isn’t yet down for the count,
however. Observers are keeping a close eye on fiber to the home (FTTH) and other,
similar applications. The market for FTTH is growing rapidly. The FTTH Worldwide
Market & Technology Forecast, 2006-2011, published by Heavy Reading, a market
research organization in New York, reports that about 11 million homes were connected
to fiber at the end of 2006, and that this should grow to roughly 86 million homes
by the end of 2011 – approximately 5 percent of the households in the world.
Demand for FTTH is especially strong in countries such as China, Russia and India.
FTTH and other FTTx applications are fast becoming the dominant
drivers for the optical fiber industry, particularly in developed economies such
as the US, where they account for more than 50 percent of the total demand. Thus,
importantly, the rolling out of FTTH in India and other countries could provide
a significant boost to the industry.
Providers have identified a variety of applications that will
drive demand for FTTH in India, noting specifically the “quadruple play”
of high-speed broadband Internet access, high-definition video, unlimited telephony
and real-time surveillance. In the home, consumers will enjoy Internet protocol
television (IPTV), interactive TV, high-definition TV, voice over Internet protocol,
IP-enabled (smart) appliances and home security systems with remote monitoring.
Never mind the improved speed and quality of Internet-based file sharing, music
and movie downloads, multiplayer online gaming and more.
Businesses also will find advantage in fiber-based applications,
they say; for example, in telepresence and next-generation videoconferencing. Interactive
distance learning and telemedicine also would benefit from the implementation of
Some analysts believe that IPTV will be the key driver of FTTH.
Others contend that, because of the cost of the content, IPTV will not be especially
profitable but rather will serve as a sort of “gateway service” to subscribers.
At the 2010 Asia Pacific FTTH Council conference – held May 25-26, 2010, in
Seoul, South Korea, executives suggested that a broad range of new services likely
will drive the fiber-to-the-home market. For example, improvements in videoconferencing
facilitated by FTTH networks will open up a host of Skype-like opportunities for
communicating with friends and family.
Operators deploying FTTH networks
In 2009, incumbent operator Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) and
Aksh Optifibre Ltd., both of New Delhi, launched the country’s first FTTH
service, providing triple-play (voice-video-data) services with high-definition
content to more than 35,000 customers in six districts of Rajasthan: Jaipur, Jodhpur,
Udaipur, Ajmer, Kota and Alwar. The services include IPTV, high-definition TV, 3-D
TV, video-on-demand, bandwidth-on-demand and videoconferencing. The service was
built on Gigabit passive optical network (GPON) technology. The optical fiber will
replace the “last mile” lines connecting exchanges to the home. Currently,
these are almost entirely copper-based.
The operator has plans to deploy FTTH in 105 cities across the
country, initially focusing on a particular segment of the market. “For FTTH
services, we are targeting high-end customers who have been getting our Internet
and IPTV services in our unlimited package of broadband on copper lines,”
K. Sudhakar, general manager of core network at BSNL, was recently quoted by India’s
Voice&Data magazine. “At least 10 percent of our present broadband customers
will be targeted in the initial phase.”
Also last year, fixed broadband infrastructure provider Radius
Infratel Pvt. Ltd. of New Delhi began to connect Indian homes with high-speed fiber
access using fiber technology from Ericsson, a provider of technology and services
to telecom operators. In a 3000-unit complex near New Delhi, residents now have
access to high-definition, personalized IPTV, video-on-demand and other such services.
They also can download music, movies and other content at speeds of 100 Mb/s and
can jump online using wi-fi connections in the complex’s many common areas
At the same time, Ericsson’s high-speed fiber-access solution,
including GPON, has enabled automated lighting, electricity bill payment and security
Rashmi Soni, the company’s head of internal communications,
media and analysts relations, notes that the rollout was made possible by India’s
geography and population distribution. “Movement of a strong middle class
(young generation/youth population) and trends toward gated community complexes
actually [proved a] catalyst for FTTH based on Open access,” he stated in
The solution was well received – by the residents, the real
estate and property management companies involved, and the service providers and
operators – and Radius and Ericsson now have signed a new agreement to extend
the fiber access to 600,000 households and businesses, again providing a range of
entertainment, building management and home automation services, with Internet speeds
of up to 100 Mb/s.
The companies are only getting started. Ericsson expects 2 million
homes to be connected by FTTH by 2015, Soni said.
The end-to-end solution is based on Ericsson’s EDA 1500
GPON system and uses Ribbonet air-blown fiber and Micronet microcable solutions
for efficient rollout of the passive fiber network. The company also will provide
systems integration, consulting, and training and support services for Radius.