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- Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his 2020 Independence Day speech, laid out the vision to connect every village in the country with optical fiber cable (OFC) in 1,000 days. To reach the targeted level of fiberisation, India requires about Rs 2.2 lakh crore of investment to help fiberise 70% towers.
What is fiberisation?
- The process of connecting radio towers with each other via optical fibre cables.
- It helps provide full utilization of network capacity, and carry large amounts of data once 5G services are rolled out.
- It will also aid in providing additional bandwidth and stronger backhaul support.
- The backhaul is a component of the larger transport that is responsible for carrying data across the network. It represents the part of the network that connects the core of the network to the edge.
- Fibre-based media, commonly called optical media, provides almost infinite bandwidth and coverage, low latency and high insulation from interference. With 5G, it will also be necessary to increase the density of mobile towers to provide better coverage to consumers and businesses. This calls for increased requirements for fibre deployment.
Where does India stand with respect to tower fiberization?
- To transition into 5G, India needs at least 16 times more fibre. In India, currently only 33% of the towers are fiberised, compared to the 65%-70% in South Korea and 80%-90% in the U.S., Japan and China, according to a 2021 report by India Infrastructure Research.
- The fibre kilometer (fkm) per capita in India is lower than other key markets. Ideally, a country needs 1.3 km of fibre per capita to ensure good fiberisation. India’s fkm is just .09 compared to 1.35 in Japan, 1.34 in the U.S. and 1.3 in China, the report noted.
- There is also a need to increase data capacity in the fiberized towers. These tower sites which are connected via fibre are called fibre point of presence (POP).
Challenges and solutions
- To reach the targeted level of fabrication, India requires about Rs 2.2 lakh crore of investment to help fiberise 70% towers.
- About Rs 2.5 lakh crore will be needed to set up 15 lakh towers in the next four years, according to estimates by the National Broadband Mission and Cellular Operator Association of India (COAI).
- Government programmes like BharatNet and Smart Cities will further add to the demand of fibre deployment, necessitating a complete tower fiberisation.
Speed of implementation
- India laid out the vision to connect every village in the country with optical fiber cable (OFC) in 1,000 days. To achieve that vision, cables must be laid at a speed of 1,251 km a day, around 3.6 times the current average speed of 350 km a day.
Right of Way (RoW) rules
- One of the biggest issues in the way of fiberisation remains the Right of Way (RoW) rules. The Indian Telegraph RoW Rules 2016 were gazette notified by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), Govt. of India in 2016. The rules aim to incorporate nominal one-time compensation and uniform procedure for establishment of Overground Telegraph Line (OTL) anywhere in the country.
- While all States/UTs are required to implement these rules, they are not in complete alignment and still require certain amendments to align. Further, several districts and local bodies have not agreed to the RoW policies as notified in those respective States. These places are following their own bylaws overriding the State RoW policies aligned with the RoW rules, 2016.
- Other central Ministries like the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, National Highway Authority of India, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Ministry of Railways, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Civil Aviation, Department of Post, etc. have not yet adopted these Rules, citing their own departmental rules.
- DoT’s GatiShakti Sanchar online portal as a way to simplify RoW approvals and help deploy cables for 5G. This initiative will enable centralisation of RoW approvals for telecom infrastructure projects, including 5G and help operators to deploy required infrastructure for the upcoming 5G rollout in a timely manner.
- In 2021, the DoT revised the RoW rules, making it easier to install aerial optical fibre cable in the country. This can enable infrastructure providers to deploy cables overhead via street light poles and traffic light posts.
Regulatory and Policy Framework
- Pilot projects are underway in a few locations like the Delhi airport. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has also published a consultation paper on using street furniture for small cell and aerial fiber deployment. This along with the findings from the pilot projects will help to inform the regulatory and policy framework.