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Optical Fibers and the 5G Spring


India is preparing to auction off airwaves in order to launch 5G services across the country. The infrastructure required for such a rollout necessitates the connection of existing radio towers via optical-fibre cables.


GS Paper: 2 Government Policies & Interventions

GS Paper: 3 IT & Computers, Indigenization of Technology, Scientific Innovations & Discoveries

Mains Question

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (Digital Revolution) has ushered in e-Government as an essential component of government. Discuss. (150 Words

Optical Fibre:

  • The backbone of the digital infrastructure is optical fibre, which transmits data via light pulses travelling through long strands of thin fibre.
  • Metal wires are preferred for optical fibre communication transmission because signals travel with less damage.
  • The optical fibre operates on the total internal reflection principle (TIR).
  • Light rays can transmit massive amounts of data (In case of long straight wire without any bend).
  • In the event of a bend, the optical cables are designed to bend all light rays inwards (using TIR).
  • Fiber has more bandwidth and standardised performance up to 10 Gbps and beyond, which is impossible to achieve with copper.
  • Because fibre has more bandwidth, it can carry more information with far greater efficiency than copper wire.
  • Because data travels in the form of light in fiber-optic cables, there is very little signal loss during transmission, allowing data to move at higher speeds and over longer distances.
  • In addition, fiber-optic cable is less susceptible to noise and electromagnetic interference than copper wire.
  • In fact, it is so efficient that in most cases, 99.7 percent of the signal reaches the router.
  • Many environmental factors that affect copper cable do not affect fiber-optic cable.
  • Because the core is made of glass, an insulator, no electric current can pass through.


  • Fiberisation refers to the process of connecting radio towers via optical fibre cables.
  • The backhaul is a component of the larger transport system that is in charge of transporting data across the network.
  • It is the network segment that connects the network’s core to the network’s edge.
  • To provide better coverage to consumers and businesses, the density of mobile towers must be increased.

Challenges in Fiberisation:

  • To achieve the desired level of fiberisation, India requires approximately Rs 2.2 lakh crore of investment to fiberise 70% of towers.
  • In the next four years, approximately Rs 2.5 lakh crore will be required to build 15 lakh towers.
  • Government initiatives such as BharatNet and Smart Cities increase the demand for fibre deployment, necessitating complete tower fiberisation.
  • In 2020, India set a goal of connecting every village in the country with optical fibre cable (OFC) in 1,000 days.
  • To realise that vision, cables must be laid at a rate of 1,251 km per day, which is approximately 3.6 times the current average speed of 350 km per day.

Right to Way (RoW) Rules:

  • In 2016, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), Government of India, published the Indian Telegraph RoW Rules 2016.
  • The rules are intended to include a nominal one-time payment and a uniform procedure for establishing an Overground Telegraph Line (OTL) anywhere in the country.
  • While all states and territories are required to implement these rules, they are not fully aligned and require certain amendments to do so.
  • Several districts and local bodies have not agreed to the RoW policies as announced in their respective states and are instead enforcing their own bylaws that override the State RoW policies aligned with the RoW rules, 2016.

India’s Status in Fiberisation

  • According to STL, a technology company specialising in optical fibres and cables, India requires at least 16 times more fibre to transition to 5G.
  • India currently connects only 30% of its telecom towers.
  • Between April 2020 and November 2021, India exported optical fibre worth USD138 million to over 132 countries.
  • The consumption of optical fibre cable in India is expected to increase to 33 million fibre kilometres by 2026, up from 17 million fibre kilometres in 2021.
  • A little more than 30% of mobile towers have fibre connectivity; this must be increased to at least 80%.
  • India has a lower fibre kilometre (fkm) per capita than other key markets.
  • To ensure good fiberisation, a country should have 1.3 km of fibre per capita.
  • India has a fkm of 0.09, compared to 1.35 in Japan, 1.34 in the United States, and 1.3 in China.
  • These fiber-connected tower sites are known as fibre points of presence (POP).
  • Currently, these fibre POPs at a tower site can handle data at speeds ranging from one to five Gbps.

The assist of Satellite Communication

  • Because processing power must be distributed from centralised data centres to edge servers closer to users, satellite communication can provide high-capacity backhaul connectivity to a large number of edge servers across large geographic areas.
  • It can bring 5G broadband connectivity to underserved areas where terrestrial infrastructure cannot be deployed, such as remote villages, islands, or mountainous regions.
  • Satellite networks are the only way to deliver 5G broadband to users on moving vessels such as cars, ships, aeroplanes, and high-speed trains.
  • Space-based broadcast capabilities enable worldwide over-the-air software updates for connected cars.

Way Forward

  • To encourage domestic optical fibre manufacturing, the government should consider instituting a PLI scheme that would provide companies with incentives for incremental sales of optical fibre manufactured in domestic units.
  • The GatiShakti Sanchar online portal can help operators deploy required infrastructure for the upcoming 5G rollout by centralising RoW approvals for telecom infrastructure projects, including 5G.
  • The Department of Transportation recently revised the RoW rules, making it easier to install aerial optical fibre cable in the country.
  • Infrastructure providers may be able to deploy cables overhead via street light poles and traffic light posts as a result of this.
  • There is also a requirement to increase data capacity in fiber-optic towers.

December 2023