Driven by a staggering increase in mobile broadband traffic in the last year, India has emerged as the best-performing optical networking market in 2017, according to a recent report from Ovum. The market research firm reckons that optical networking sales in India are up 11.8% this year.
Thanks to the growth of 4G, and efforts by telcos to prepare for the arrival of 5G in the next few years, the optical networking market is likely to continue growing for the next five years, says Ovum Ltd. "Mobile broadband growth will drive India to be the fastest-growing market through 2022," writes the company. "Ovum is forecasting an 11.4% CAGR [compound annual growth rate] driven by 4G and future 5G growth."
Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN), one of the vendors active in this market, is clearly encouraged by the outlook. "Leading Indian service providers have said transport -- including optical transport, wireless transport, and submarine cable systems -- is one area they have underinvested in, and there is a lot of focus and investment expected in this space over the coming couple of years," says Ryan Perera, Ciena's vice president and general manager of regional sales for the Asia Pacific.
Much of the growth in the transport network is happening as Indian consumers take up 4G services. Newish service provider Reliance Jio has totally changed the dynamics of India's mobile broadband market by offering free and low-cost data deals. Its move forced the incumbents to reduce their prices and triggered a subscriber boom. From a usage perspective, the mobile broadband market is thriving.
"The Indian market was primarily focused on voice, so the networks were primarily microwave based," says Sanjay Nayak, the CEO of equipment vendor Tejas Networks India Ltd. "Only 20% of the basestations are fiberized as of now, while it is 80% in China for a similar population spread. Our networks got built in a very skewed way. Now, the telcos have little option but to upgrade the networks to prepare them for mobile broadband and 5G growth."
Indeed, there is skepticism in the global market that microwave technologies will be able to support much higher-speed 5G connections. That augurs well for the vendors of fiber optic networks that are targeting the Indian market.
"These [5G and connected things] will place enormous pressure on the way underlying transport networks are designed," explains Perera. "5G will require centralized RAN [C-RAN] architecture. In 5G networks, network slicing is being planned in the radio network and the packet core. In order to realize the full benefit of network slicing, the underlying transport network also needs to work in tandem."
"We are actively working with Indian operators to modernize core backbones … to cater to this new reality [of data growth]," adds Perera. "On the other hand, access networks are arguably the most underinvested area in India. With [5G] … front-haul and back-haul transport architectures will be critical."
As for the other India...
But 4G and 5G are just one part of the equation. Expansion in the rural sector through BharatNet (previously called the National Optic Fiber Network) project is also fueling demand for transport network gear. Telcos including RJio, Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL), Vodafone India and Idea Cellular Ltd. have already signed up to buy bandwidth from the government-backed player.
"Rural fiberization, from the government side, is the second most important area of growth in the country," says Nayak.
— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading