What are your drivers of high performance and growth in the next five years?
I think we are truly in a “Techade”, where technology will be at the centre of economic growth and deliver tremendous impact on our country and our citizens. It will also impact in a big way on our GDP in a big way.
We are very excited to be part of all this journey. The need for broadband is irrefutable. Just like we say roti, kapada, makan - the next biggest requirement globally, and in India, is broadband. Providing high-quality teachers, doctors, and top-notch government services to every village in India is not feasible at the moment. However, by leveraging the power of broadband and the Internet, this can be achieved. With the solutions developed and offered by STL, I believe we can make a significant impact over the next 5-10 years.
How ready is India for this kind of tech advancement?
I think India is at an inflection point. With greater reach and relevant use cases, the adoption of digital new technologies is quite high and is increasingly becoming more and more relevant for a common Indian. Both the government, industry and start-ups are capitalising on this momentum and building a digital ecosystem for the country.
For instance, projects like the government’s Bharat Net and private player’s focus on fiberisation, progress on private 5G etc are all reflective of this momentum. I see a lot of infrastructure getting built over the next 3-5 years.
Prime Minister Modi has already shared his 6G a vision for the country and has launched an app which will help operators, and with it enable companies like STL, to deploy fiber in the most efficient way, while not disturbing the existing fiber underground. Such initiatives being taken on by our Prime Minister himself is very encouraging.
India is already slated to be a leader in the world for the fastest adoption of 5G, and I believe in the next 2-3 years we will have ~200,000,000 5G users.
How do you see things shaping in this context in III-Tier and II-Tier cities?
When you look at absolute data consumption rural India is actually growing faster than urban India. A report by CRISIL predicts that rural India's GDP growth is likely to outpace urban India in the fiscal year 2022-23, with an estimated growth rate of 10.5% compared to 7.5% for urban India.
There is an intense interest, as well as need, for data intensive applications and higher data bandwidth there. People are realising that a lot of production work, learning and training can take place through video applications and more and more content in the local languages will further boost this trend.
To enable rural communities to use Digital in the best possible way, STL has launched an initiative called Garv. STL Garv has these digital kiosks that we place in rural villages to enable interactions through the Internet in the local language.
During Covid, as digital usage increased, rural India was exposed to a lot of inputs and a lot of insights on agriculture and productivity. Factors like awareness about the Mandi prices, weather conditions, tips on crop performance etc can typically help farmers command better prices and earn materially more than what they are doing currently. All of this is possible through internet access and digital literacy. That is what STL Garv brings to the table.
What’s the difference going to be in the coverage and capacity strategy for operators of 5G vs the 4G era?
What’s amazing about India’s 5G rollout is the sheer speed and scale of it. 400+ cities have already been connected and operators are targeting pan-India coverage by next March
5G promises faster speed, touching 1 gbps on the mobile and latency which is going to reduce drastically from nearly be from 50ms in a 4G environment – to around 10ms to 20ms in a 5G environment. This requires extensive deployment of more 5G towers, lots of small cells and fiber to these towers. Our own view is that India has to go from 36% backhaul to close to 80% backhaul on fiber.
This is where a lot of network deployment will continue and STL is working with both the leading operators to enable this fiber deployment. They are also looking at a very large deployment of fiber to the home and to the enterprises, as they see between 20-30% of their revenues coming from the enterprise segment.
With carpet coverage of high-capacity fiber of the large and tier 2 cities in the offing, STL believes that there will be a need for a lot of infrastructure. STL will play a leading role in this.
What opportunities are there for STL in the 5G rollout?
STL is a global company, partnering with leading network creators in to 120 countries; 70% of our revenues comes from outside of India. We are very proud to share that we have been building fiber optic solutions and connectivity solutions for several years to support 5G deployment of telecom operators globally.
From that perspective, we are already well set up in terms of our product portfolio. We have 742 patents and state- of -the- art R&D centres where we partner with customers, the telecom operators, for supporting them for their 5G requirements. We are also on course to adding capacities to serve the demand in India.
What are the challenges you see?
While globally there’s a very strong interest to deploy fiber networks there’s shortage of trained manpower for this deployment. We envisage this as a possible constraint in the near term. One of the things that STL is doing, is providing more easily deployable plug and play solutions that require the minimum trained power.
Getting permissions for fiber deployment in India is another constraint. It has slowed down deployment because it both reduces the speed and increases the costs and lends uncertainty to the entire process. The centre and the state should look at easing permissions and also standardise costs. I think this is still a work in progress.
Does STL have any programme for upskilling the workforce?
We want to solve the problem of skilling at the industry level. We have an STL academy which skills young talent on relevant digital and fiber related skills. We have partnered with forums like Nasscom, Bihar Skill Development Council etc for skill upgradation and building next gen technological skills by mobilizing 100,000 youth through various skill projects. Additionally, our 5G Empower program will train one million women in 5G technology. The intent is to scale up this to several lakh people, because that’s the kind of requirement there. It’s a win-win situation for STL and for the customers as it creates employment and ultimately leads to larger fiber deployment.
Also, in terms of bridging the demand-supply gap, STL is very fortunate to have an amazing team, apart from leadership, who are truly committed to taking this forward with our purpose to transform billions of lives by connecting the world. Our brand has also improved globally as a company as we continue to take significant market share in various geographies.
What are you doing in terms of product offerings?
The most important requirement when bringing in 5G is providing high density, high-capacity fiber optics cables–in a very small diameter, because the duct size ultimately is a constraint. STL is at the forefront of this innovation. We produce some of the world’s best high density, high-capacity fiber optics cables– and some of the lowest diameter cables.
We are also working on the longevity of the cables, which should last 20-30 years in the ground to ensure that the networks are sustainable from a long-term perspective.
We also supply all the accessories that go along with them, in terms of the interconnect, which we have co-designed with our customers.
We service data centres, telecom operators and internet service providers and work with projects like the government’s Bharat Net as their solution partner.
What about the issue of sustainability in your endeavours?
Our customers are excited to partner with us because we aim to help them meet their sustainability goals. We have recently become one of the leading companies in the world to achieve – the Zero Waste to Landfill Certification, the Net Zero Liquid Discharge certification – and we are probably the most aggressive, globally, and certainly in India, to take a target of 2030 for Net Zero Carbon emission. When customers come to audit our facilities in India, they really see us as a great long-term partner.
Where do you see STL in the next 5-10 years?
STL will become known as a company for being a truly Indian multinational. We aim to be amongst the top 3 optical fibre players globally. Also, STL will play a leading role in India to create the digital infrastructure that’s required to take the world forward.
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