Navin Vohra, Vice President, Service Provider, Asia Pacific, CommScope
Please share your views on current status of network infrastructure in India and changes required to ensure smoother and seamless migration from 4G to 5G networks.
The Indian telecom industry is currently seeing a rapid surge in data consumption as digitalization continues to drive even greater smart phone penetration amid the intense competition among operators.
While the government has embarked on strategic nationwide initiatives such as Digital India and Smart City investments that will drive 5G development, India must overcome infrastructure challenges that could slow future adoption of 5G technologies. India is lagging behind developing economies such as China when it comes to fibre deployments, according to TRAI Chief. Insights from Assocham- EY shows that less than 25 percent of telecom towers in India carry fibre optics whereas that number increases to 65-80 percent in China.
The good news is India’s government is looking to the future and has committed to providing broadband access to 50 percent of households across the country by 2022. We expect this means more investment in fibre optic networks.
Fibre will be the backhaul connectivity of choice not only to lay the ground work for 5G but to serve current 4G/LTE requirements. It is important to upgrade the 4G networks to support higher speeds and higher capacity as the existing 4G networks will be an integral part of 5G networks and will work as a fall back layer for 5G users.
How will 5G impact the networks? What approach or business models you suggest operators for successfully building 5G ecosystem in India?
As wireless technology continues to evolve, we are expecting high speeds, low latency and low power devices. Autonomous vehicles, smart cities, instantaneous video mobile downloads, wearables, and augmented reality will undoubtedly evolve with 5G networks.
This will mean 5G coverage will require fibre to be successful, and not just for capacity reasons. Other factors include network diversity, availability, and coverage. However, the current infrastructure challenges, including the lack of a robust backhaul network is hindering the advancement of 5G, according to a report by Frost & Sullivan.
With increasing capital expenditure for upgrade of 4G networks in addition to preparing for 5G rollout, operators must look at new business models to improve their costs. One of the ways to achieve that is through the introduction of virtualized Radio Access Networks(RAN) with open interfaces for 5G. This will help to reduce capital and operating costs since the use of open interfaces will avoid vendor lock-in.
Whatare the key problems that you think network operators are going to experience while deploying 5G in India?
Besides making sure that there is adequate spectrum for 5G, it is necessary to add spectrum for 4G networks as a ‘fall back’ network layer for 5G. This may mean re-farming of 900/1800/2100 MHz bands to 4G.
If 5G is expected to deliver speeds that are up to 10+ times FASTER than 4G, then it will also require more base stations in a given area—increasing the density of the network itself. Network operators have begun this process with the 3G and 4G networks, to increase the sectorization and adding of small cells. 5G will require more densification across macro sites, more in-building sites and metro cells.But densification adds complexity to the network because it increases the number of cell borders, where interference becomes a problem and a handoff increases the possibility of dropped connections.
At present, majority of mobile subscribers, mainly from the rural areas, are still on 2G,although they will increasingly migrate to the faster networks. It will be a tall order to migrate 500 million subscribers to a 4G or 5G network.
As mentioned previously, the move to 4G or 5G means more fibre, but the limited availability of fibre remains a key challenge. According to the FTTH Council Asia-Pacific, India has only 1.25 million fibre-to-the-home connections.
How is CommScope working to bring 5G into the region? What are your key focus areas and immediate priorities to be a valuable partner in India’s 5G journey?
CommScope helps operators and service providers transition to fibre deep networks. For instance, our end-to-end Radio Access Network (RAN) fibre solutions span fibre-to-the-antenna/ fronthaul and backhaul, which helps alleviate network bottlenecks and provide users with a transparent and satisfying wireless experience on the network.
CommScope’s innovative capacity solutions for RF path provide pragmatic upgrades to 4G RAN Networks. These solutions allow operators to introduce 5G RAN seamlessly in RF Path in macro and micro networks, and for In-building wireless networks.
While not new, densification, virtualization, optimization and simplification of networks will continue to be at the forefront of operator goals and CommScope is focused on doing that.
Robust optical fibre networks are crucial for securing India’s broadband future but still India is far behind its other Asian counterparts on FTTH penetration. What are the major challenges you see in deploying fibre connectivity in India?
The Right of Way (RoW) policy remains a major hurdle to network operators and service providers building cell/mobile towers and laying fibre for high speed broadband especially in key cities. This may be due to tedious bureaucratic processes, approvals and even high cost for tower companies to build towers and network operators to lay fibre. A RoW policy with better clarity will pave the way for a timely and smooth fibre rollout.
Building a fibre network is a big undertaking that requires significant investment in time and resources.Service providers are already under increasing pressure to accelerate their time to market while reducing their installation costs. The landscape remains challenging as the telco industry continues to be disruptive with operators’ consolidation and price war and therefore, they are more careful in spending, which may be causing the delay in fibre deployment. The lack of skilled fibre technicians locally adds to the challenge.
Please suggest strategies to increase FTTH penetration in India.
FTTH is not only an ideal technological solution but a necessity for service providers to remain competitive. But before that, network operators and the local authorities need to address challenges especially around regulatory policies, investments and infrastructure readiness that’s impeding progress.
For instance, Right of Way (RoW) policy has created uncertainty in fibre investments and increased the difficulties to lay optical fibre networks. Suggestions from industry peers such as additional government incentives for the network operators will encourage them to roll out infrastructure in semi-urban and rural areas where revenue potential is lower. Clarity in the RoW policy will also speed deployment. For instance, there must be a set of standardized guidelines across different states in the country for optical fibre and tower deployment.
Next, the high cost in migrating to new technologies just add to the infrastructure complexity. But the good news is, there are more new solutions available today that help in substantial cost savings while eliminating laborious and costly fibre splicing.
In addition, there is a need for plug-and-play technology as speed of deployment and shortages of skilled labor become a bigger issue with larger FTTH deployments in India and other markets outside of the United States.
Ultimately, with the correct implementation of fibre optic connectivity, there will be improvements to the speed of FTTH rollout in India.
Keeping in view the changing market demands coupled with high competition, what are your offerings for operators help them with their network challenges?
We made several breakthroughs in the wireless space last year, including introducing a new integrated antenna solution based on xRAN open interface specifications. The open interface allows wireless operators to mix and match radio access network (RAN) hardware from multiple vendors to more flexibly address varying requirements. We also introduced new antennas for Gigabit LTE, including a 4x MIMO, ultra-wideband antenna for the 1400 MHz–2700 MHz range in late 2017. We continue to add antennas to our portfolio that support different frequency band combinations in 4-, 8- and 12-port configurations, with 4xMIMO support on both low and high bands.Achieving 1 Gigabit per second speed is a benchmark for the next generation of wireless networks, which CommScope is helping to enable with advanced base station antenna technology.
Our innovative fibre solutions can save operators significant time and money, as field labor costs are a substantial portion of overall network deployment costs.
We will also be demonstrating ourbroad portfolio of fibre connectivity solutions for fronthaul and backhaul networks, as well as our unique C-RAN small cell solution for cell virtualization at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that runs February 25-28, 2019. Do find us at the show if you are keen to find out more about CommScope’s offerings and how we are helping network operators prepare for 5G.
As a leading network infrastructure solutions provider what opportunities and challenges do you see for CommScope in the Indian market with the emergence of new next generation technologies?
As bandwidth needs of communications networks continue to grow, the next wave in mobile innovation, 5G, is beginning to take shape. Helping network operators prepare for 5G is where CommScope is focused. We will continue to work with network operators in India on how new technologies such as 5G could be deployed so that they are ready to address the bandwidth and service needs of their customers, while solving their current network challenges.