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Driving Demand: OFC deployments by key customer segments
The Indian telecom industry is witnessing significant investments in optic fibre cable (OFC) networks, driven by the growing demand for broadband services, the proliferation of next-generation broadband technologies like long term evolution (LTE) and increasing deployments of last mile connectivity (FTTx). Besides telecom, other sectors that are contributing considerably to OFC demand are power, railways, and oil and gas. Organisations in these industries have specific connectivity requirements. For instance, fibre optics in oil and gas serve as links for data and control and for sensing of various attributes. In the railways, it is largely used for signalling and tracking, and in power, for monitoring and control.
A look at the current status of OFC deployments in the railways, power, defence, and oil and gas segments, as well as the future plans of the key players in these areas…
RailTel Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Indian Railways, is one of the largest neutral telecom infrastructure providers in the country. The company owns a pan-Indian optic fibre network through its exclusive right of way (RoW) along the railway tracks across 4,500 railway stations (including over 600 stations on long haul and 3,800 stations on short haul).
The company’s OFC network has increased from about 4,500 km in 2000 to over 49,000 km in 2016, of which around 46,000 km is lit and the remaining 3,000 km is unlit. Indian Railways has a total track length of 86,000 km and RailTel is in the process of covering the remaining length as well with its network. RaiTel also has a dense wavelength division multiplexing network that is spread across 25,500 km.
While the prime objective of RailTel’s network is to serve the communication needs of Indian Railways, the company has created significant excess bandwidth, which is being used to offer services to telecom companies and enterprise users. RailTel offers a wide range of managed telecom services through its OFC network, including tower co-location, multiprotocol label switching (MPLS)-based internet protocol-virtual private network (IP-VPN), broadband services, data centres, next-generation network (NGN)-based voice carriage services and bandwidth lease services to internet service providers, multiple system operators, enterprises, banks, government institutions, etc. The company’s key operator clients include Bharti Airtel, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), Reliance Communications, Aircel, Idea, Tata Indicom, Vodafone India and MTS. The major banking clients are Andhra Bank, State Bank of India, ICICI, Bank of Baroda and Central Bank of India.
RailTel extends a wide array of services through its OFC network. These include inter-exchange connectivity and videoconferencing between the railway boards, and the zonal and divisional offices through its tele-presence programme. RailTel provides the fibre backbone for the freight operating information system and for GSM-Railways, which helps in meeting emergency requirements in the event of accidents.
Besides, RailTel has been selected by the government as one of the service providers to set up a countrywide OFC network under the BharatNet initiative. RailTel has been entrusted with the task of connecting 36,000 gram panchayats across 120 districts in 11 states by fibre. Under the first phase of the project, the company has deployed 19,515 km of OFC as of March 2016 across 8,500 gram panchayats. In June 2016, Daman and Diu were added to RailTel’s scope of work under this project.
RailTel is also actively involved with various state projects. For instance, it is managing the Haryana government’s state wide area network project. It is also laying 10,000 km of fibre network in six north-eastern states under the Universal Service Obligation (USO) Fund of the Department of Telecommunications.
The company will also provide 15,000 km of OFC network to the Indian Army for the latter’s Army Static Switched Communication Network (ASCON).
Powergrid Corporation of India Limited (Powergrid) is responsible for managing the country’s power transmission network. The utility has leveraged its transmission infrastructure to provide low-cost telecommunication services and currently operates as a stand-alone player in the point-to-point bandwidth leasing business. It is also the only utility in the country having pan-Indian overhead optic fibre on its extra high voltage transmission network.
Powergrid currently has 85,316 km of OFC network across the country. The company has used optic ground wire (OPGW) technology to roll out its fibre network on a live-line environment on the existing transmission lines and synchronous digital hierarchy (SDH)-based transmission equipment for building backbone communication systems. In deploying OPGW in these live-line conditions, Powergrid faced challenges arising out of limited resources and the small number of indigenous suppliers of OPGW hardware and accessories, as well as the absence of adequate testing facilities for OPGW in the country.
Powergrid is also one of the implementing agencies for the BharatNet project and has been specifically entrusted with the task of developing and maintaining the project in Telangana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand and Odisha. Powergrid has already awarded contracts for the supply of duct and accessories along with trenching and laying work. About 977 gram panchayats have already been connected with fibre by Powergrid. A large part of the company’s OFC network (approximately 34,323 km across the north, south, east, west and northeast regions) is still in the expansion phase.
Going forward, the utility plans to use OPGW as earth wire in all upcoming transmission lines of 132 kV and above. Moreover, it plans to make the existing transmission lines loop-in loop-out and provide them with OPGW.
The communications requirements of the defence sector are different as compared to other segments, with security and scalability of networks being of primary concern to the defence forces. Terrain and weather also play a key role in deciding the optimum communication technology. Besides, survivability of networks sustainability under adverse war conditions needs to be ensured. In addition, the communications networks have to take into account the migration of defence troops and hence, the requisite movement of equipment.
The defence forces have been dependent on local networks and public sector operators such as BSNL and RailTel for communication services. The Indian Army has also developed its own static switched communication network to integrate the telecommunication infrastructure of the hinterland with tactical communication networks. The defence forces have now started to make considerable investments in optic fibre networks. An important initiative in this regard is the Network for Spectrum (NFS) project, which is an exclusive secure, multi-service and multi-protocol optic fibre-based nationwide communication network for the defence services. Around 60,000 km of OFC roll-out is planned for connecting all the military stations of the army, the air force and the navy under the NFS. The NFS has two key components – national long distance networks and access networks, with the planned OFC lengths under the two being 45,000 km and 15,000 km respectively.
Oil and Gas
GAILTEL is the telecom and telemetry services arm of GAIL (India) Limited, the largest state-owned natural gas processing and distribution company in India. The primary role of GAILTEL is to provide communication services for GAIL’s pipeline business and operate the latter’s supervisory control and data acquisition and enterprise resource planning applications. GAILTEL, however, has also been commercially leasing its OFC network to telecom operators across India, and provides tower space and collocation facilities and point-to-point leased line bandwidth services. The company’s key clients include Vodafone India, Bharti Airtel, Tikona, Powegrid and RailTel.
As of June 2016, GAILTEL had an OFC network of around 12,000 km along GAIL’s cross-country pipelines (around 7,200 km) and state/national highway routes (around 4,800 km). The network connects 150 cities in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Delhi NCR.
GAILTEL has envisioned an addition of about 5,200 km of OFC network in the next five years across Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. Further, the company is preparing to lay 48-fibre cables along some of GAIL’s new pipelines to cater to captive and business requirements. GAIL is also exploring a partnership with service providers for sharing fibre and ducts on a long-term basis.
Like other players, GAILTEL has also faced a variety of challenges in operating its OFC network. These include low profit margins, lack of policy guidelines on leasing of dark fibre, extensive damage to fibre cables due to road construction, the absence of an integrated nodal agency to monitor the execution activities of various utilities and the absence of a utility corridor for trunk and last mile connectivity. s
Based on presentations by Jagdeep Singh, General Manager, Operations, RailTel; H.H. Sharan, AGM, Load Despatch & Communication, Powergrid; Colonel R.S. Thakur, Director, NFS, Directorate-General Signals, Integrated Headquarters of Ministry of Defence (Army); and Gopal Dutt, General Manager, GAILTEL
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