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Fixed broadband demand peaks again as offices switch to work from home

The data consumption of existing users is also going up as more people stay indoors.

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KOLKATA: India has exemplified its excellence in democratising internet through mobile data. But the growth of fixed broadband was at a much tepid rate until the country had to turn to work from home and school from home due to the raging Covid2019 pandemic. While more and more people needed high speed and stable internet and opted for home broadband connections last year, the demand for new connections is again on the rise as many parts of the country descend into lockdown.

UCN Cable Network director Jagdish Paliya said that demand for connections has again picked up in last one month or so but not as much as last year. The company has witnessed a ten per cent growth in demand. In addition to that, data consumption of existing consumers has surged drastically, up 25 per cent, he added.

Compared to the last quarter, broadband customer addition has gone up for GTPL Hathway too, one of the leading players in the segment. GTPL Hathway cable TV head & chief strategy officer Piyush Pankaj said the requirement for new connections has increased somewhere around 15-20 per cent month-on-month. However, this trend has been on an upward trajectory since March 2020 itself. As a large part of the workforce switches to WFH mode for the next few months, the incremental demand will remain for the next quarter at least, he noted.

Kerala based Asianet is witnessing the same trend with 25 per cent surge in demand, Asianet Satellite Communications vice president & technology head Salil Thomas shared. “We saw a surge in demand when lockdown started last year because lot of employees started working from home. There was a surge in demand during first quarter of lockdown. That trend was evident throughout the year but when people started moving back to their respective workplaces at the end of the year, there was slow decrease in demand. Now, it has picked up again,” he detailed.

Siti Networks CEO Anil Malhotra had a different take. According to him, the trend is not similar this year because the impact of the pandemic is much severe. Even the workers who do installations are at risk right now, people both in-office and on the field are getting infected. Consumers are also affected as the virus is permeating almost every household.

Everybody is focused more on providing seamless service to existing customers rather than improving numbers, Malhotra stated. However, if the situation again culminates into a prolonged work from home culture, and more people start staying at home, there will be surge in demand in the long run, he added.

Considerably, even the players who are seeing a surge in demand are facing on-ground issues. With a Covid positive case in almost every household, it is becoming increasingly difficult for operators to install new connections in these homes. Societies have barred entry to resist rapid spread of the deadly virus. But the situation is not dire like last year, as the service providers have learnt how to tackle the issues. On the backend of the services, broadband players are facing fewer issues with advance planning. In terms of inventories, these firms have stocked enough equipment – although a longer lockdown may create difficulties again.

According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s report, there were 22.67 million wired broadband subscribers in the country as of 31 January 2021. The top five wired Broadband service providers were BSNL (7.69 million), Bharti Airtel (2. 90 million), Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd (2.25 million), Atria Convergence Technologies ( 1.80 million) and Hathway Cable & Datacom ( 1. 06 million).

“Penetration of home broadband in India is very low compared to advanced countries. We have a long way to go to reach ideal penetration,” Win Broadband MD & CEO K V Seshasayee noted. “It is cheaper to consume data through fibre than wireless. Customers can get a much better deal at a lower price. Fibre-based wired broadband is beneficial for small businesses as well.  Couple with these factors, the work from home culture will accelerate the demand for home broadband in India. Moreover, the bandwidth requirement will also go up with more users in rural areas.”

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