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National Master Plan “PM Gati Shakti” can bring path breaking changes in Indian Telecom Industry

The recently launched PM Gati Shakti (PMGS) Program envisions to create National Master Plan for integrated Infrastructure Development across the country. There is a vision to invest INR 100 Lakh Crore on development of multi-modal infrastructure in future. However, the biggest theme of this program is integrated planning for all infrastructure leveraging the state-of-the-art Geospatial Information System (GIS) Technology.

Advanced Enterprise Resource Planning software will leverage the GIS Platform with 200+ layered datasets, for efficient Planning, Monitoring and Visualization of the assets. While most of the media coverage was revolving around Physical infrastructures like Highways, Railways, Gas Pipeline, Power Transmission etc., very little is talked about the significant impact it will have on Telecom Sector. The potential benefits of the PMGS program on Telecom have been enlisted below:

1. Enforcement of “Dig Once” Policy for Optical Fiber Cable (OFC) deployment

Prime minister has highlighted the importance of OFC infrastructure several times in the past and he terms it as i-way (Information Superhighway). According to a study conducted by ICRA, the fiber coverage per capita in India works out to 0.09 km which is far behind 0.87 for China and more than 1.13 for US and Japan. Creating a synergized planning of Telecom Infra with other infrastructure works like Road, Rail, Gas Pipeline etc. will help India to catch up quickly with the rest of the world.

2. Faster and Cost-Efficient Right of Way

There has been broader consensus in Telecom Industry that the single biggest bottleneck in the path of the Telecom growth is “the lack of RoW policy uniformity” across the country. Several efforts have been made in the past that could not fetch much benefits. Just for an example, Municipal Authorities in Mumbai charges almost INR 10 million just for giving RoW permissions. In Pune Municipal area, because of some legal issues, many leading telecom operators are unable to get RoW permission for OFC laying for almost a decade. In most of the cities, permission for digging remain suspended for almost 4 months in a year due to Monsoon related embargo. In some of the cases like Forest area, there are multiple owners of the roads like PWD, Forest etc. and telecom project teams are made to wait for several months to get permission to execute works on such stretches. The GIS platform envisaged under PMGS program will help bring Synergy among Road, Utility and Infrastructure at the planning stage itself. This will liberate the Telecom industry from the hassles of following up with various authorities endlessly.

3. Ease of getting permission for Passive Infrastructure

5G is the most awaited technology in India. While it expected that 5G will be launched soon after spectrum auction, the major challenge will crop up from the infrastructure perspective. Unlike past generations, 5G will need large number of outdoor small cell sites. These outdoor sites will be installed along the roads, lanes, public places, educational institutions, residential complexes etc. In current scenario, information about availability of permission along the roads and utilities is not available on any common portal and this leads to delays. If all authorities start placing permission availability at one of the information layers out of the 200+ planned on Gati Shakti GIS portal, complete planning, application and payment process will become very fast. This will lead to faster deployment of Infrastructure for 5G networks and will help in making 5G experience ubiquitous.

4. Opportunity to Synergize other infrastructure for Network build

Redundant and Scalable Telecom Infrastructure needs multiple routes, especially for OFC deployment. For example, City Gas Distribution (CGD) network follows the similar design required for creating FTTH Networks for connecting homes on fiber. Today, penetration of FTTH is abysmal and India is far behind the global average. In India, less than 5% of estimated 250 million homes have access to FTTH broadband. This is primarily because of the high cost associated with the last mile fiber build. Potentially, cost of providing FTTH access can be reduced by almost 80%, if synergy is established with all CGD projects, currently underway in more than 600 towns across India. Similarly, OPGW (Optical Power Ground Wire) installed on the top of power transmission lines can be used for intra-city and inter-city connectivity. OPGW is the most sought after connectivity means by Enterprises and Hyperscale Cloud Companies, because of its ability to provide very high link uptime without any errors.

5. Better Planning to drive Data Centre Growth

This point is specific to synergy of planning with Highways. Due to data localization needs, demand for Data Centre (DC) infrastructure is soaring in India. There are different kind of data centers being deployed ranging from few KWs (Micro DCs) to few 10s of MW (Hyperscale DC). It is widely believed that Start / End Points and Branching junctions along the Highways are extremely useful for setting up the Greenfield Hyperscale DCs. This belief is primarily driven by the fact that Quality of civil, power and connectivity infrastructure can be the best at these locations. PMGS portal may enable planning and monetization of Data Centre Infrastructure along the Highways. This will also help in addressing captive needs of Highways and Expressways.

6. Network build and management cost rationalization

Better planning and availability of information on a public portal will help drive better synergy during network build. For example, Open Reach in UK has a portal which is referred by all Telecom Service Providers, while planning any network. The availability of updated information helps in better synergy and need for captive deployment is eliminated. Availability of information on PMGS portal may help reduce the network build and management cost, as implemented by UK Open Reach.

7. Faster and wider reach of the network will drive higher Revenue

Under PMGS program, the government envisages the faster deployment of infrastructure worth INR 100 Lakh Crore. Such scale of infrastructure deployment will require massive use of automation and monitoring systems. Multiple use case will emerge, just for managing the infrastructure deployment. For example, IoT based tracking of health and productivity of machines, has emerged as one of the major applications in infrastructure management. Emergence of such use cases will lead to increased Enterprise revenue for Telcos.

8. Better O&M, Reduced OPEX and Enhanced Life of the Network

Currently India does not have street view map available for public viewing and mapping of assets on it. PMGS program has plans to create 3D maps of the cities which may be created using technologies like LiDAR, Photogrammetry, Aerial Survey and combining it with high resolution satellite imagery. Availability of such rich visualization will help improve the efficiency at every stage of Telecom Network starting from Design to O&M stage. Better planned corridor will also help in lesser damage to the OFC network, which ultimately will lead to reduced OPEX and longer life span of the network deployed.

9. Higher investment flow in Telecom Sector

Recently announced policy changes like Payment Moratorium, SUC removal, BG rationalization, enhanced payment tenure, allowing 100% approval for FDI etc., have given much needed relief to the telecom sector. Now creation of Integrated Multi-modal Infrastructure Planning Platform will lead to improved investor sentiments. This may help increase inflows of FDI in India. This will also encourage Indian Entrepreneurs to invest in this sector.

While the finer print of the Gati Shakti Plan is still awaited, looking at the details made available so far, it looks like a promising start in the right direction. Telecom Sector may become one of the biggest beneficiaries of PMGS, by removing the silos in the working of various ministries. Looks like “Achche Din” of Telcom Sector of India is about to come!

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