Increasingly, nations are elevating their status in the world with 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 5G and IoT (see “India’s Race to Digital Leadership” below).
To prepare for an all-digital India—including taking advantage of an expected $100 billion in investments—the India telecommunications service provider market is consolidating. The leading players are assessing revenue opportunities and making adjustments for future growth and stability. One such business is Bharti Airtel, India’s second-largest mobile network operator and the third largest on the planet.
Airtel is providing incentives for customers to upgrade from 2G and 3G services to 4G, in particular encouraging customers to switch to data plans that come with bundled content like Amazon Prime and Netflix services. The goal is to maximise 4G customer acquisition in India’s top 1,000 cities, as well as expand to the next 5,000 cities1. Gopal Vittal, Bharti Airtel managing director and CEO (India/South Asia) told investors, “Large pools of customers see smartphones as an aspiration, and that is where our focus is.2”
Airtel and its traditional rivals, including Vodafone India, face significant competition from businesses that offer low-cost plans3. To compete, Airtel relies on its ability to provide exceptional customer service. Airtel needed an IT infrastructure that would enable it to provide products and services customers faster than competitors.
The answer was a virtualised modern infrastructure that provides the flexibility to spin up new environments so that the company could go from concept to product or service in a short amount of time. In a nutshell: Bharti Airtel saw the benefits of a digital foundation built on a software-defined data centre and an agile development framework.
Due to its 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, enabling streamlined management and operations and offering 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—while 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. This 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, 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 customers on-demand video and audio streaming, cloud-hosting, security services and firewalls. It's also helped the company expand into new markets like digital banking.
These changes allow Airtel to put innovation at the core of its business. The company has established Airtel X Labs in Bangalore to explore solutions based around artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, and the Internet of Things, in anticipation of the deployment of ultra-high-speed 5G networks4. And the company has begun marketing its data centre infrastructure to other companies via a wholly owned subsidiary, Nxtra Data Ltd5.
By delivering new high-value services faster to businesses and consumers, Bharti 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 is the first in which the government’s communications plans extend beyond telecommunications to include emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things, 5G, cloud computing and mobile to mobile.
Under the four-year plan, every citizen would have access to 50Mbps broadband, while half of all households would have access to fixed-line broadband. Citizens would also have access to 10 million public Wi-Fi hotspots by 2022, up from 5 million in 2020.
India’s government leaders believe an enhanced digital communications sector would contribute 8 percent of the country’s GDP, up from 6 percent in 2016.
To help telecommunications providers and infrastructure developers prepare for an all-digital India, the policy rationalises levies to revitalise the telecoms sector. The policy also aims to attract $100 billion investment in India’s digital communications sector by 2022 through regulatory reforms.
In all, the government says the policy will 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.
Described by industry think tanks as “the fourth industrial revolution,” 5G levels the playing field for nations—both developed and emerging—to enrich the lives of all their citizens.
In India, government leaders believe 5G will help the country leapfrog the traditional barriers to development, describing their 5G vision as “touching the lives of rural and weaker economic segments so as to make it a truly inclusive technology.6”
To succeed with 5G, the government has laid out three priorities:
5G is an important cornerstone to the government’s Digital India vision, as described in its National Digital Communications Policy 2018. Companies like Bharti Airtel are key to achieving that vision. And VMware is helping them do so.▪