Enabling The World’s Largest Digital Inclusion

By Dr Anand Agarwal, CEO, Sterlite Technologies
Dr Anand Agarwal

India today has an opportunity to leapfrog and bring affordable high-speed connectivity to its billion citizens using next-generation web-scale networks

Artificial intelligence, ambient computing, virtual reality are no longer catchphrases. Their applications are rapidly becoming mainstream, with the potential of having transformational impact on societies and economies. From headphones that translate in real time and delivery drones to city surveillance and agriculture sensors, technology is connecting people and helping them by solving real-life problems. In India, efforts towards identity and financial inclusion, digital citizen services, e-education and e-health in villages are all attempts at solving the problems of environment sustainability, pollution, rural to city migration, urban crime, equitable pricing for agricultural produce. Digital technology is at the forefront of his change, transforming everyday living, bridging gaps across generations and economies. 

Exponential growth across users, devices, content, data

What is unfolding in front of us is a massive digital inclusion ecosystem, driven by the multiplier effect of –

  • More ‘connected’ people: Today, almost half the world’s population is connected to the internet. Digital connectivity in India is particularly swift – India has a 40 percent internet user growth at a time when global growth is flattening – and ubiquitous – Aadhar has connected over a billion Indians, the most ambitious biometric identity system in the world!
  • More devices per person: There are already more devices connected to the internet today than the entire human population, and by 2020, 25 billion ‘things’ are expected to be connected to the internet (IoT).
  • More ‘content’ per device: While traditionally voice was the only type of content, digital has brought with it varied content, such as video, geo spatial, augmented reality, virtual reality etc.
  • More data consumption per content type: Already, the annual global IP traffic has crossed 1 Zettabyte (ZB) and is expected to exceed 3 ZB in the next five years (1 ZB = 1021 bytes). Per capita data consumption is set to multiply nearly five times in the next three years!

India is unique as the scale here is unparalleled – identity and financial inclusion have impacted almost the entire population base of the second most populous country in the world, while BharatNet will cover the area of the seventh largest country. The complexity and scale will only increase, with India expected to be the most populous country in less than a decade.

This technology and user adoption ecosystem is supported by government policies globally. Today, over 150 countries have national broadband plans. In Europe, for instance, the European Commission has set aggressive targets to create a Gigabit society through ultra-fast internet access by 2025. In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of Digital India, rural broadband (BharatNet), smart cities, secure defence networks, digital payments is steering the country towards rapid digitalisation. The Prime Minister recently reinforced this vision through a target of Transforming India by 2022. 

Rising expectations – Thoda aur wish karo

Enterprise service providers and consumers in this digital ecosystem expect hyper connectivity and ultra-low latency. They expect uptime and security. They expect personalisation based on deep learning and analytics. They expect dynamic network management. They expect seamless service. They expect smarter networks. And, they expect all this at affordable prices.

Can the industry deliver to these expectations?

The industry has done it before; it can do it again. As India leapfrogged from 4 percent tele density in 2002 to 80 percent in 2012, the industry converged to make it happen – from technology and innovative business models to industry collaboration and government policies.

It’s time to leapfrog again. It’s time to wish for some more – and to make it happen.

From web-scale networks and disruptive revenue models to innovative content and service models and progressive policies, the industry once again needs to rally together.

Smarter, web-scale networks  

Today, India has an opportunity to design, build and manage web-scale networks for hyper connectivity.

When voice was the only form of content, the network was simple, with optimising connectivity being the main objective. Complexity increased somewhat with broadcast digital content. Now, with varied forms of data-heavy content, more people publishing content, multi-directional communication etc, the paradigm has completely changed. Networks are no longer conduits for connectivity alone.

Just as India leapfrogged to wireless technologies for voice propagation 10-15 years ago, today there is an opportunity for the country to once again leapfrog – this time to next-generation web-scale networks for creating data networks for tomorrow.

Technology evolution is influencing the shape of future data networks, which need to be smarter – agile, robust, reliable, flexible and fungible for continuous growth. Given the need for hyper connectivity and low latency and the fact that applications and storage for them is over the cloud, data centres are moving close to the point of consumption. Hence, networks are becoming dense with smart design elements.

Traditional exchanges are being replaced by data centres at the edge, while networks are getting virtualised and software-defined with open source architecture and elements. New robust networks are being designed and built, while legacy networks are being driven by web-scale innovations such as Software Define Networks (SDN) and Network Function Virtualisation (NFV).

These networks will be built with densified small cells, data centres – at the edge, deep fibre with 1000+ counts per cable, and virtualised networks running on open-source hardened hardware. These next-generation networks will be scalable and low cost, enabling India to deliver connectivity at affordable rates to its growing and ambitious citizens.

At the same time, there is a need to not just design and build smart networks, but also to manage them over the long term. These networks will be dynamic and ever changing to meet the growing needs; hence smart management, and not just ongoing maintenance, is critical.

Optical fibre remains the ideal medium to carry such data traffic over long distances. The densification of 4G network and the advent of 5G is further bolstering the demand for fibre. At the same time, fibre will enable wireless technology as it is critical for high-capacity backhaul and future proofing the network. Telecom towers are being backhauled with fibre, last-mile connectivity is happening over fibre (FTTx) while companies such as Google, traditionally not in this space, are laying out their own fibre.

As digital takes the lead in transforming everyday living, Sterlite Tech is at the front and centre of the ecosystem. We believe it is our responsibility to make this transformation happen. What is good for human kind, is good for us.

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