Indian Carriers Commit to GPON

BSNL and Bharti Airtel unveil their FTTH plans at Light Reading's broadband strategies event in New Delhi

September 12, 2008

3 Min Read
Indian Carriers Commit to GPON

NEW DELHI -- Broadband 2.0: Making the Business Case -- The GPON market is set for another boost, with at least two major Indian operators planning to deploy extensive fiber-to-the-home networks in the next few years, senior carrier executives told delegates at Light Reading's inaugural industry seminar in New Delhi yesterday. (See GPON Driving Worldwide Growth of FTTH and Who Makes What: GPON Equipment.)

In his keynote address to the 100 or so senior operator executives who attended the event, Rakesh Kumar, VP of Broadband Planning for Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL)'s Telemedia Services business unit, which provides fixed broadband services in 94 cities in India, said there was no point in building copper access networks any more, and that the operator, which has been active in India's emerging, but small, fixed broadband access market, would be deploying GPON.

Kumar said the operator had issued an RFP for a trial network, and expected to push ahead with a broader GPON deployment later in 2009 and 2010.

But Bharti Airtel isn't the only Indian operator with high-speed fixed access plans. BSNL, which currently has about 2.4 million DSL broadband customers, has been considering PON deployments for a few years and has now decided to invest in an extensive deployment. (See BSNL Wants GEPON, WiMax Gear.)

In his keynote address, Shri R. K. Agarwal, director of planning and new services at BSNL, said the carrier is committed to a GPON strategy that will see the technology rolled out in 100 cities across the country.

And BSNL's plans appear to be further advanced than ever before, with industry sources suggesting a shortlist of potential GPON vendors is set to be issued any time now. Among the vendors expected to be in the running are Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), ECI Telecom Ltd. , Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. (See ECI Touts GPON Advance and GPON Gets a 10G Look.)

In the meantime, BSNL still hopes to boost its existing DSL customer base and has set itself targets of 5 million in its next financial year and 22 million by 2012.

And then there's the potential of various wireless technologies to help boost broadband uptake. Agarwal said WiMax services would be launched before the end of this year, while BSNL expects to launch 3G services as soon as January 2009. (See BSNL Preps New WiMax Tender, IndiaWatch: Tender Times at BSNL , India Edges Closer to 3G, and India Update: IPO Plan, WiMax Auction.)

Barriers to FTTH
The fiber access hopefuls face plenty of hurdles, however. One of the big problems facing the likes of BSNL and Bharti Airtel is the cost associated with gaining permission to build new ducts and lay the fiber, with Bharti Airtel's Kumar saying that about 70 percent of the cost of building an FTTH network was eaten up by payments to local authorities and the organizations involved in digging up the roads. Gaining access to buildings is also a major hurdle -- one that could lead to high-speed broadband access networks being deployed in local pockets, rather than being widespread.

India's fixed broadband sector certainly needs a boost. Despite its 1 billion-plus population, the country has only 4.6 million broadband customers (end of July), according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) , with the low number of home PCs regarded as one of the factors holding up increased penetration.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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