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India is set to auction roughly 72 GHz of airwaves to roll out 5G services in the country. However, the infrastructure required for such a rollout requires connecting existing radio towers using fiber optic cables. The work of connecting the towers could prove to be a huge challenge for the country.
What is pulping?
The process of interconnecting radio towers using fiber optic cables is called fiber optic. It helps to provide full utilization of network capacity and transfer large amount of data after the introduction of 5G services. It will also help in providing additional bandwidth and stronger backhaul support. Backhaul is part of a larger transport that is responsible for moving data across the network. It represents the part of the network that connects the core of the network to the edge. As a result, optical backbone connectivity remains an important part of transport across all telecoms, Sajan Paul, Managing Director and Country Manager, India and SAARC, Juniper Networks, a telecom infrastructure company, told The Hindu.
Fiber-based media, commonly called optical media, provide nearly infinite bandwidth and coverage, low latency, and high isolation from interference. With 5G, cell tower density will also need to be increased to provide better coverage to consumers and businesses. This requires increased fiber deployment requirements, Mr. Paul said.
Where does India stand with respect to tower fiberization?
To transition to 5G, India needs at least 16 times more fiber, according to estimates by STL, a technology company specializing in optical fibers and cables.
In India, only 33% of towers are currently fiber optic compared to 65% to 70% in South Korea and 80% to 90% in the US, Japan and China, according to a 2021 report by India Infrastructure Research. Fiber kilometer (fkm) per capita in India is lower than other key markets. Ideally, a country needs 1.3 km of fiber per capita to ensure good fiber coverage. India’s Fkm is only 0.09 compared to 1.35 in Japan, 1.34 in the US and 1.3 in China, the report said.
There is also a need to increase data capacity in fiber towers. These towers, which are connected via fiber, are called Optical Point of Presence (POP). Currently, these optical POPs on the tower can handle data at 1 to 5 Gb/s, Nitin Bansal, Managing Director, India and Head – Networks, Southeast Asia, Oceania and India, Ericsson, told The Hindu.
What are the challenges?
To reach the target fiberization level, India needs an investment of around ₹ 2.2 crore to help fiberize 70% of the towers. According to estimates by the National Broadband Mission and Cellular Operator Association of India (COAI), around ₹ 2.5 crore will be required to build 15 million towers in the next four years.
Government programs like BharatNet and Smart Cities will further boost the demand for fiber deployment, which will require complete fiberization of the tower. In his Independence Day 2020 speech, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled a vision to connect every village in the country with an optical fiber cable (OFC) within 1,000 days. To achieve this vision, cables must be laid at a rate of 1,251 km per day, about 3.6 times the current average speed of 350 km per day, according to a report by EY, a global professional services company.
Right of way (RoW) rules remain one of the biggest challenges in the fibering method. Indian Telegraph RoW Rules 2016 has been released by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), Govt. of India on November 15, 2016. The rules aim to incorporate a nominal one-time compensation and a uniform procedure for setting up an Overhead Telegraph Line (OTL) anywhere in the country.
While all states/UTs have to implement these rules, they are not fully aligned and still require some modifications to align, the EY report pointed out. Further, several districts and local bodies disagreed with the RoW policies announced in these respective states. These sites are governed by their own statutes, which take precedence over state MA policies, in accordance with MA rules 2016, EY said.
Other central ministries like Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, National Highways Authority of India, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Ministry of Railways, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Civil Aviation, Ministry of Posts etc have not yet adopted these rules, citing their own departmental rules, it said EY.
Global network intelligence company Ookla highlighted DoT’s GatiShakti Sanchar online portal as a way to streamline RoW approvals and help deploy cables for 5G. “This initiative will enable centralization of RoW approvals for telecom infrastructure projects, including 5G, and help operators deploy the required infrastructure in time for the upcoming 5G rollout,” Sylwia Kechiche, Principal Analyst, Ookla, told The Hindu. In October 2021, the DoT revised the RoW rules, making it easier to install aerial fiber optic cable in the country. This can allow infrastructure providers to deploy overhead cables over lampposts and traffic light poles.
Pilot projects are underway at several locations such as the Delhi airport. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has also published a consultation paper on the use of street furniture for small cells and antenna fiber deployment. This, along with findings from the pilot projects, will help inform the regulatory and policy framework, Ms Kechiche added.
Can satellite communications help 5G rollout and improve the backbone network?
Processing power must be distributed from centralized data centers to edge servers closer to users.
Satellite communications can provide high-capacity backhaul connectivity to large numbers of edge servers in large areas, adding cost-effective scalability to the terrestrial network, according to a report by satellite service provider Intelsat.
Satellite communications can facilitate 5G broadband to areas with insufficient coverage where ground infrastructure cannot be deployed, such as remote villages, islands or mountainous areas. Satellite networks are the only means of delivering 5G broadband to users on board moving vessels, including cars, ships, planes and high-speed trains. In addition, the space broadcast capabilities support wireless software updates for connected cars anywhere in the world, the Intelsat report said.
The space-based backhaul will also provide disaster relief services, support emergency response teams, as well as provide broadband for one-off entertainment or sporting events anywhere in the world, Intelsat said.
Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites will be well suited to offer not only backhaul but also direct connectivity. With the adoption of the 5G standard, new markets will open up for satellite operators, including IoT, private 5G and cellular backhaul for densification to enable more cellular sites and edge devices, Ms Kechiche added.
The process of interconnecting radio towers using fiber optic cables is called fiber optic. It helps to provide full utilization of network capacity and transfer large amount of data after the introduction of 5G services.
In his Independence Day 2020 speech, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled a vision to connect every village in the country with an optical fiber cable (OFC) within 1,000 days. To reach the target fiberization level, India needs an investment of around ₹ 2.2 crore to help fiberize 70% of the towers.
Satellite communications can also facilitate 5G broadband to areas where ground-based infrastructure cannot be deployed, such as remote villages, islands or mountainous regions.