Green solutions and accurate monitoring crucial to succeed in India

Ascend Telecom on its latest innovation strides and the current state of play in the country

Read this article to learn:

  • An overview of Ascend’s latest green initiatives
  • The financial and operational benefits of adopting renewable solutions
  • The importance of remote monitoring: Ascend’s experience
  • India’s new telecom and infrastructure landscape

India is often in the news for its tumultuous telecom landscape and ongoing consolidation efforts. However, the country is also home to some of the most innovative towercos in Asia, continuously pushing towards green solutions, opex reduction and technology improvements. In this interview, Dr Sushil Kumar Chaturvedi, CEO of Ascend Telecom, shares with our readers exclusive news related to energy management solutions, monitoring advancements as well as an update on the Indian telecom and towerco landscape.

TowerXchange: Please re-introduce yourself and your role within the company.

Dr Sushil Kumar Chaturvedi, CEO, Ascend Telecom:

I have been the Group CEO of Ascend Telecom since 2012 and have over 35 years of experience in management roles within the telecom infrastructure industry and beyond. In the past, I held senior roles within ORG Informatics, GDSS Inc. USA, BSNL as well as the ITU, where I led telecom development projects for South African countries. Recently, I have been awarded the CEO of the year award for 2019 by the APAC HRD Congress.

TowerXchange: Can you share some of the latest green initiatives adopted by Ascend?

Dr Sushil Kumar Chaturvedi, CEO, Ascend Telecom:

Ascend has been a pioneer in green energy initiatives and deployment in distributed telecom infrastructure cell sites. In line with the guidelines issued by the telecom regulator as well as the Government in terms of emission and fossil fuels reduction, Ascend has consciously done accretive intervention in all facets of energy management.

Ascend’s bouquet of smart energy comprises of wind chimneys, solar PV, wind turbines, smart grid management as well as efficient storage solutions.We conduct energy audits on every cell site to identify the optimum mix from the bouquet for each site in order to maximise its ROI. We are well aware that “no size fits all”, especially given the vast geography of India and its topographic diversity.

Smart Grid management

Grid power is the most economical. Over 98% of our sites run with grid supply and by ensuring the best availability, we are able to draw more than 83% of our energy needs from the grid. Grid power has the least carbon footprint barring renewable energy. Ascend uses a smart tool to monitor the grid availability from source to destination. Grid consumption payments are fully automated to avoid disconnections.

Wind chimneys

These operate with zero power needs. Wind chimneys use natural draught to create a temperature differential in the shelter. They have replaced air conditioners using refrigerating gases like R12 and R22, thereby preventing damage and depletion of the ozone layer. As per the environmental studies conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO), it has been observed that one kg of R22 gas released to the air causes the same damage as two tons (2,000kg) of carbon dioxide. So far, Ascend has been able to replace over 76% of its air conditioner systems with wind chimneys.

Renewable energy Solar PV installations

Solar PVs provide the cleanest form of energy currently known. Ascend has designed systems that pump power directly to their DC power systems, improving energy efficiency significantly by avoiding storage losses and reducing the huge cost of energy storage. 30% of Ascend cell sites have distributed solar installations and we’ve been able to achieve a positive ROI in less than 15 months after the initial investment.

Efficient storage management through site automation

An optimal discharge combined with highly efficient charging regimen have enabled Ascend to achieve the best battery life thereby reducing scrapping of batteries to the minimum, on top of the reduction of recycling costs and carbon emissions. Effective battery regeneration programs for VRLA batteries have increased their lifetime by 30%. Additionally, Ascend has introduced Li-ion and flow batteries in its portfolio. We are able to achieve significant savings by using battery only for auto-changeover between gensets and grid, rather than draining them for load.

Wind turbines

Ascend is actively engaged in field trials with new generation vertical axis wind turbines in small capacity. These turbines are capable of running on low wind speeds and generating power 24/7. Additionally, they can be mounted on towers and even on smart poles within urban areas.

TowerXchange: By adopting some of the above solutions, what type of savings and emission reductions can a towerco expect in the mid / long term?

Dr Sushil Kumar Chaturvedi, CEO, Ascend Telecom:

Mid-term savings from green initiatives accrue with controlled usage of diesel and reduced opex thanks to less maintenance.

In the long term, Ascend saves and makes money by reducing their capex investments by maximising the life of existing assets. Over time, renewable solutions provide cost-free power for a much longer – sometimes over double – the shelf life, with minimal opex. Green programs have shown considerable savings in terms of costs, longer asset lives as well as a drop in our carbon footprint.

By leveraging our green portfolio, we can offer MNOs across India a very low Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and we have become their preferred business partner.

TowerXchange: Can you tell us more about the batteries Ascend is utilising and how the efficiency of batteries has evolved over the years?

Dr Sushil Kumar Chaturvedi, CEO, Ascend Telecom:

Early on, Ascend adopted Valve Regulated Lead Acid (VRLA) batteries as industry standards. VRLA batteries have the ability to perform in all weather conditions and provide optimal life when used with an appropriate understanding of their limitations on the Depth of Discharge (DOD) and specific loading. Ascend has been successfully deriving the highest life from these batteries by dimensioning them optimally across its portfolio and providing the correct operating parameters. For these batteries, we are also able to perform successful regeneration programs to extend their lifecycle.

Ascend has been working closely with leading battery manufacturers in the country, providing crucial feedback on battery behaviour, operating requirements and constraints. As a result of our feedback, they have successfully introduced new design changes such as absorbent gel electrolytes, special electrode structures, shell designs to prevent any premature failures and aptly meet our working conditions. More recently, Ascend introduced flow batteries that have the ability to continuously replenish the electrolyte.

Li-ion batteries have been deployed leveraging their fast charge/discharge cycles, optimal for sites subject to frequent grid failures. As previously mentioned, we’ve been able to achieve significant savings by using Li-ion batteries only for auto-changeover between gensets and grid, rather than draining them for load.  

Field trials for Nickel-Fe batteries have been planned and I reckon their deployment will happen quickly in light of their promising features.

Ascend’s smart energy management tool helps to extend batteries’ lives by avoiding deep and frequent discharge. Our system measures battery performance in real-time while proactive maintenance ensures enhanced efficiency, enabling Ascend to offer the lowest TCO to their customers.

TowerXchange: Which other innovations is Ascend exploring in terms of monitoring / maintenance and overall operations?

Dr Sushil Kumar Chaturvedi, CEO, Ascend Telecom:

Ascend has been a pioneer and industry leader in implementing site automation, remote management and innovative technology intervention in the telecom infrastructure industry.

Ascend established its fully automated Central Tower Operations Centre (CTOC), bringing every site under remote surveillance. Remote monitoring devices operate from the sites, communicating with their central servers and pumping all vital site parameters to the operations teams. We have an in-house developed web-based operations automation management software (ITOC), which provides a real-time interface to the operations and field teams with live data guaranteeing the best uptimes across the industry. Field force is communicated through a fully automated communication portal (MTOC) accessible through mobile platforms even in remote locations. 

The extensive analysis of operations and energy consumption data through ITOC analytic engines provides the required guidance to central and field teams on the quality of operations as well as energy status, helping them to finetune all parameters and provide the very best in terms of customer experience.

Ascend uses an App-based training program addressing all site maintenance activities, to keep its workforce always up to date with best in class practices. We are the only IP with an in-house O&M practice, standardised across our entire portfolio.

These technology interventions have helped in fully automating many other functions like site survey, project management, site audits, customer inventory registers et cetera, enabling Ascend to maximise its revenue, while keeping the costs to the lowest. All platforms including the centralised ERP solutions, work seamlessly interfacing with each other and provide the desired levels of operational efficiency, productivity and profits.

TowerXchange: How has the Indian telecom scenario evolved and what does it mean for towercos? Is the environment more competitive and if so, what are towercos doing to remain relevant?

Dr Sushil Kumar Chaturvedi, CEO, Ascend Telecom:

The Indian telecom landscape witnessed a wave of consolidation with a frenzy of M&As and “survival of the fittest”, now finally evolving into an optimum mix of MNOs and towercos.

On the MNO front, exits and mergers brought the number of operators down from ten to four, creating an even more competitive environment and pushing them to look for optimisation and opex reduction. For towercos, this has resulted in some crucial tenancy exits.

MNOs are still under pressure due to a fall in tariff prices and high spectrum management costs, so it’s obvious they are looking for maximum savings and TCO optimisation from their infrastructure providers. However, India is hungry for data and while the Government is focusing on initiatives to bridge the digital divide, MNOs need to increase their capacity and coverage. Everyone across the industry is feeling the pressure of the demand for better QoS by subscribers as well as the regulator.

We feel that all the factors above are creating a perfect scenario for tenancy growth and that in spite of the turmoil, the worst is finally behind us. Towercos are focusing on new streams of revenue to monetise their real estate assets including data off-loading through small cells, in-building solutions, OLT for FTTH, Wi-Fi hotspots, smart cities, as well as EDC. Fibre backhaul is another significant opportunity, as towercos are realising that fiberised towers are more attractive to their tenants.

I strongly believe that going forward these emerging business segments will significantly contribute to our revenue.

Government is playing a pivotal role with pro-telecom policies, easing the Right-Of-Way (ROW), making some of their buildings and existing infrastructure available to us and budgeting funds to deploy smart cities. The government is also considering deferring spectrum payments – a special initiative to address the financial woes faced by the MNOs.

Overall the sector is looking up, with the Government taking some crucial steps towards the creation of a healthy ecosystem, enabling towercos to create new revenue streams and MNOs to focus on enhancing 4G capacity as well as new deployments.

In the meantime, 5G tests are underway and OEMs are starting to demonstrate a certain degree of readiness, while the Government is preparing for 5G spectrum auctions. 5G will usher a whole new gamut of opportunities for towercos as well as MNOs.

Hear from Ascend’s CEO live at the TowerXchange Meetup Asia 2019! Join Dr Sushil Kumar Chaturvedi and 250 experts from the entire Asian telecom infrastructure ecosystem for two days of intensive knowledge sharing and business networking at the Meetup in Singapore in December.

Leave a Reply