The Shortage is Over

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The world is at the cusp of the next techno-industrial revolution – one that will be powered by unparalleled communication technology. But in the ever oscillating pendulum of change, perpetuated by consumer demand on one end and technological breakthroughs on the other, the industry that finds equilibrium can loft itself into the next era. Today, that fine balance rests in the power of telecommunications: industries that will have digital communication technology-enabled solutions, i.e., connected solutions, will be the pioneers of change in every sphere of our lives.

Over the last 2 years, in the race to build networks of the future to get everything connected, the world experienced some speed bumps. The latter part of this decade saw the highest growth in proliferation of Optical Fibre networks, the propagators of unlimited bandwidth at unimaginable speeds, followed by a sustained period of stagnation.

In 2018, as global Optical Fibre consumption crossed 500 Million Kilometres[1] (measured by individual strands of optical fibre), which is more than 3 Astronomical Units, the only factor holding back even more production was a shortage of Optical Glass Preform. This material, important in the production of Optical Fibre, can only be manufactured by a dozen or so companies around the world.

Fortunately for us, in late-2019, on the back of immense investment made by the industry, the shortage of Preform was over. Sterlite Technologies Limited (STL) constructed one of the world’s largest Preform manufacturing facilities. Soon after, STL’s facility was deemed to be one of the largest “clean-room” manufacturing facilities in India. Today, there is enough capacity available for the world’s operators and Hyperscale/Cloud companies to consume well over 600 Million Kilometres of fibre and unleash the potential of next-era 5G networks.

With global consensus that the time for 5G has come, and the constraints on optical fibre have been lifted, the world’s leading telecom operators, network companies, and data center companies have the opportunity to lay the backbone of 5G network. Industry leaders like Verizon, China Mobile, and Orange have been quietly building networks for years, while total disruptors like Reliance Jio have been exploring new ways of funding their networks’ expansion.

It is amply clear that there is a networks arms race, and those with the route miles and deep fibre in their arsenal will be the clear winners. To top it off, vertically integrated manufacturers like STL are producing new solutions meant to transform the next-gen networks.

(STL is one of the few companies globally that has the technology and manufacturing capacity to produce Optical Glass, Optical Fibre, and Optical Fibre Cable. Moreover, its portfolio of passive connectivity solutions, and its track record in designing and deploying entire networks, gives it the ability to create unique value for its telecom clients).

Just like the ever-savvy retail consumer of the digital era, today’s Enterprise customer also expects the highest quality, the fastest service, and a full-stack of solutions. The age of dependability and durability has been augmented by the need for dexterity. Fiberized networks, powering next-gen RAN, and managed by 5G protocols, will serve as the bedrock of every Enterprise process (from remote-ordering of a coffee to ultra-high frequency trading, and even live monitoring of utilities and reactors).

The operators whose products will be the backbone of 5G network, will dominate the industrial revolution. In 2019, these leaders were challenged by a lack of Optical Preform production. But just as we cross the last speed-bump, we know the shortage is over, and it’s the time to build!

[1] Optical Fibre and Cable Monitor, CRU, November 2019

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