Increasingly, countries are elevating their status by adopting advanced technologies wielded by skilled workforces. For example, Singapore’s continued promotion of tech innovation, among other measures, has helped the country deliver the world’s seventh highest per-capita GDP. Now India, with its National Digital Communications Policy, is poised to be a world leader in digital technologies, including Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G (see sidebar “India’s Race to Digital Leadership”).
To prepare for an all-digital India—including taking advantage of an expected US$100 billion in investments—the India telecommunications service provider market is consolidating. The leading players are assessing revenue opportunities and adjusting for future growth and stability. One such business is Bharti Airtel, India’s second-largest mobile network operator and one of the largest on the planet.
Airtel and its traditional rivals face competition from businesses that offer low-cost plans. To compete, Airtel relies on its ability to provide exceptional customer service.
Airtel needed an IT infrastructure that would allow it to deliver products and services to customers faster than competitors could. To address that need, the IT group envisioned a virtualised modern infrastructure, which could offer the flexibility to spin up new environments rapidly. With a virtualised infrastructure, the company could go from concept to product or service in a short amount of time. In a nutshell: Airtel saw the benefits of a digital foundation built on a software-defined data centre and an agile development framework.
Due to the company’s traditional data centres, it would take Airtel weeks or months to complete global changes to switches, routers, firewalls or other network elements. Because each component needed to be touched, even the simplest changes required time. It took equally as long for the company’s internal developers to get the compute and network resources they needed to roll out new services.
A few years ago, Airtel embarked on an ambitious IT transformation initiative. Today, Airtel’s data centres run on VMware infrastructure software solutions, which enable streamlined management and operations and offer developers highly agile and secure development environments. Operating a software-defined data centre means that every component of the network can be managed virtually from a single console, allowing engineers to make changes in minutes instead of months.
Airtel deployed VMware vRealize, a hybrid cloud management platform that lets developers quickly build applications in any cloud with secure and consistent operations. Airtel can optimise workloads: for example, servers can run customer relationship management software during the day and perform billing operations at night. Moreover, vRealize analytics functions enable Airtel engineers to forecast future capacity needs and plan accordingly.
A self-service portal allows developers to spin up resources and de-provision them when they’re no longer needed, helping enable an agile DevOps environment. The portal increases efficiency by an order of magnitude, slashing the time required to deploy new apps and services and driving faster response to customer demand.
Using VMware NSX network virtualisation, Airtel is able to move management of network and security policies from the physical to the virtual layer, creating a more secure environment.
“VMware has been one of our core partners in this transformation journey,” says global CIO Harmeen Mehta. “Virtualisation has allowed us to expose core services across our apps in a scalable manner, take human intervention out of the picture whenever possible, and completely redefine the user experience.”
Airtel’s software-defined approach to infrastructure has allowed it to succeed in an extremely competitive marketplace where differentiated services are critical for success. In addition to voice, data and broadband Internet, Airtel now offers on-demand video and audio streaming, cloud-hosting, security services and firewalls. A software-defined approach has also helped the company expand into markets like digital banking.
These changes allow Airtel to put innovation at the core of its business. The company established Airtel X Labs to explore solutions based around IoT, artificial intelligence and augmented and virtual reality, anticipating the deployment of ultrahigh-speed 5G networks. And Airtel markets its data centre infrastructure to other companies via a wholly owned subsidiary, Nxtra Data Ltd.
By delivering new high-value services faster to businesses and consumers, Airtel helps improve the lives of its customers and positions itself well for providing services in an all-digital India. That’s a winning formula in any industry. ▪
In 2018 the India government published its ambitious National Digital Communications Policy, a four-year plan to establish digital communications leadership. The 2018 document was the first in which the government’s communications plans extend beyond telecommunications to include emerging technologies such as IoT, 5G, cloud computing and mobile to mobile. Among the goals: provide every citizen access to 50 Mbps broadband and deploy 10 million public Wi-Fi hotspots by 2022. India’s government leaders believed an enhanced digital communications sector would boost the country’s GDP.
To help telecommunications providers and infrastructure developers prepare for an all-digital India, the policy rationalises levies to revitalise the telecom sector. The policy also aims to attract US$100 billion investment in India’s digital communications sector by 2022 through regulatory reforms. In all, the government intended to create an additional 4 million jobs in the digital communications sector and propel India to the top 50 nations in the United Nations’ Information and Communications Technologies Development Index of the International Telecommunication Union.
The National Digital Communications Policy helps further the objectives of the government’s Digital India vision. In particular, an important cornerstone of Digital India is 5G. Described by industry think tanks as “the fourth industrial revolution,” 5G levels the playing field for both developed and emerging countries, helping to enrich the lives of all their citizens. In India, government leaders believe 5G will help the country leapfrog the traditional barriers to development, touching the lives of rural and weaker economic segments.
To succeed with 5G, the government has laid out three priorities:
Companies such as Bharti Airtel are key to realising the Digital India vision. And VMware is helping them succeed.