Source: LiveMint.com, Nov 04, 2020
There could be a delay in the rollout of 5G technology because of differences between most states and the Centre in policies for setting up critical telecom infrastructure, senior industry executives said.
One such issue is the fee levied by states on companies for installing mobile towers and laying fibre cables. Many states also charge annual and renewal charges on telecom infrastructure providers. For states, and especially for municipal corporations, these charges are an important source of revenue.
To ease the development of telecom infrastructure across the country, the Union government in 2016 came out with the Right of Way (RoW) policy. The RoW is a framework to set up telecom towers, lay fibre cables, settle disputes in a time-bound manner and to improve coordination among private firms, states and local bodies.
While the rules have existed for four years now, only 18 states and UTs have agreed to implement the policy so far. Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Puducherry, among others, are yet to adopt the framework.
“There are states with multiple policies at different levels such as municipal, panchayat etc., which creates confusion and chaos on the ground, thus delaying the telecom infrastructure rollout,” said T.R. Dua, director general, Tower and Infrastructure Providers Association (Taipa).
Local authorities in many states charge a fee of ₹10-50 lakh per km in metros, tier-2 and tier-3 towns, whereas the department of telecom’s RoW rules prescribes a levy of one-time charges of ₹10,000 per mobile tower and ₹1,000 per km for laying fibre, Dua said.
Mumbai and Pune are the costliest to lay fibre, he said. Mumbai charges anywhere between ₹91 lakh to ₹1.3 crore per km, while Pune’s cost ranges from ₹55 lakh to ₹1.10 crore. In Hyderabad, the price is ₹15-45 lakh, and the fee in Delhi/NCR is ₹6-20 lakh.
Building the backend infrastructure for 5G rollout needs investments of tens of billions of rupees and delays or arbitrary charges by local authorities could increase costs further. The total capital expenditure required for the rollout of 5G, including spectrum, sites and fibre, is expected to be ₹1.3-2.3 trillion, of which ₹78,800 crore to ₹1.3 trillion is estimated for metros and A circles, according to a report by Motilal Oswal Financial Services released in October.
To be sure, the rollout of 5G services also depends on spectrum auctions, which may not happen in 2021 as was anticipated earlier. While Reliance Jio Infocomm claims to have created an indigenous 5G solution that can be launched as soon as the airwaves are available, Bharti Airtel is of the view that the ecosystem is underdeveloped for such technology.
According to the National Digital Communications Policy (NDCP) of 2018, fiberisation of towers across the country needs to be raised to 60% from the current 31% to sustain the increasing demand for 4G data and evolution to 5G technology.
Currently, the capacity of each tower site in India is about 300 Mbps (megabits per second) for 2G/3G/4G services and it will be required to boost to 1-5 Gbps (gigabits per second) to implement 5G, which can be done through fiberisation of backhaul.
“In order to achieve capacities of 1-5 Gbps, there is a need to deploy fibre across all the tower sites… 5G technology will also require a multi-fold increase in small cells deployment, with each small cell having backhaul on fibre,” Dua said.
About 4,000 tower sites support 4G services and in cities such as Mumbai, where the dependency on network is higher and areas congested, 6,000-7,000 sites are required. For 5G services, the number of tower sites will automatically go up to 14,000-15,000, said Anand Agarwal, group chief executive, Sterlite Technologies Ltd.
“Fast paced fiberisation will be the key for enabling smooth densification of network required for 5G services,” Agarwal said. Sterlite Technologies is a fibre optic cable manufacturing company, which recently partnered with Bharti Airtel Ltd, to build optical fibre networks across 10 telecom circles.
Both Dua and Agarwal emphasised that the rules of the Centre and states to set up telecom infrastructure are not aligned, which creates an urgency to bring in uniform policies and processes to improve connectivity on a macro scale.