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Lighting the way forward for India's digital transformation

Amajit Gupta
Amajit Gupta

Lightstorm, a carrier-neutral network infrastructure platform headquartered in India, launched in the middle of the pandemic to help provide a new and more effective route towards digital transformation in South Asia. CEO Amajit Gupta explains how.

Economies in South and Southeast Asia are seeing rapid digitalisation in every part of society. Many thousands of start-ups are springing up in countries such as India in all sorts of sectors to take advantage of the opportunity.

“The digital economy over here is actually a prime driver of the economy, simply because many businesses didn’t even exist before digital,” says Amajit Gupta, CEO of India-based carrier-neutral network infrastructure platform Lightstorm.

Gupta points to the 14,000 start-ups that have arisen in India in the past year alone and the formation of around two unicorn companies there every month, with a young population eager to consume digital services. Meanwhile, the digital economy in the wider Southeast Asia region is predicted to hit US$1 trillion by 2030.

Amid this is a vital need to improve infrastructure, with many people still not connected or lacking higher-quality services. “The quality of internet which people in the Western world take for granted is just not there,” says Gupta. “Enterprises are now being completely born in the cloud and depend on good-quality connectivity to be able to drive their business.”

Storm brewing

Lightstorm has sprung up in the past couple of years to help this, with its aim of providing open, transparent and neutral access to the cloud and internet to fill gaps in India’s digital framework, followed by other countries in Southeast Asia.

The company has tried to do this in a different way to other players, explains Gupta. “We completely redesigned the network,” he says. “Many networks in South and Southeast Asia which carry digital traffic today were designed for voice many years back; they were not designed for data principles such as low latency and extremely high availability.”

Lightstorm has taken the approach of rolling out much of its network on optical ground wire (OPGW) via electricity poles or utility infrastructure rather than via traditional fibre in the ground. Indeed, around 90% of Lightstorm’s long-haul fibre routes in India currently take this form.

Gupta explains that putting the network in the air makes it less susceptible to disruption than fibre on the ground in the event of activities such as construction, while utilities are often protected assets. As utility networks also tend to take the most direct route between points, it also reduces latency, he says.

Lightstorm was able to forge on with its plans despite launching right in the middle of the pandemic, in August 2020, succeeding in dealing with the challenges that this threw up to make significant progress. “It was the start-up spirit which kept us going,” says Gupta. “We have really put to scale the ability of a start-up company to be agile and really fast.”

At the same time, the increased demand for digitisation during this period further accelerated the need to roll out such services. “To that extent, demand was chasing us. As of now, we’re still trying to solve for more demand than we can handle,” says Gupta.

Progress and expansion

The company has already rolled out more than 12,000 kilometres of fibre via its SmartNet network in India in less than two years, connecting over 45 multi-tenant data centres and aiming to expand this to over 100 in the near future. Its services are being consumed by the likes of hyperscalers, large video players and multinational carriers.

To enhance its offering, Lightstorm recently struck up a partnership with DE-CIX giving it access to the company’s global internet exchange from Lightstorm-connected data centres, helping further bring down latency, improve network resilience and optimise content experience.

Furthermore, over the past year or so, it has struck deals with major vendors to aid development of its proposition. This includes one to deploy Nokia’s cloud-native Digital Operations software, enabling Lightstorm to deliver network-as-a-service-based offerings quickly and easily to customers. Another, with Ciena, involves deployment of coherent optics, network management and advanced automation software to serve OTT, data centre and cloud providers.

Lightstorm is, meanwhile, rolling out to other markets in the region, such as Indonesia, where it is in the middle of a buildout connecting over 40 data centres, and has begun procedures to move into Nepal and Bangladesh. Later expansion plans include Thailand, Malaysia and other countries in Southeast Asia.

With Lightstorm looking to spread its model across the region, it is keen to lead the way in overcoming the big challenges that remain in bringing effective, reliable internet to many countries. “We want to bootstrap the way to solve this problem in this part of the world,” says Gupta.

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