Anand Agarwal, the group CEO of Sterlite Technologies Ltd—India’s largest optical fibre provider—has big plans for the company. Curiously, they have little to do with fibre. On 23 August, Agarwal told the press that Sterlite would hire 300-400 professionals to work on new focus areas. Specifically, developing wireless and 5G technology.

The announcement to ramp up its 3,100-strong workforce follows on from a string of peculiar investments over the past year. In September 2019, Sterlite acquired United Kingdom-based IDS Group, which designs data centres. Three months later, it picked up a ~13% stake in Israeli software firm ASOCS, which specialises in virtual radio access networks (RAN)—software for the radios that transmit mobile network signals.

Sterlite also announced partnerships with American enterprise software major VMware and Gurugram-based VVDN Technologies. Both tie-ups are geared towards developing 5G solutions.

The Pune-headquartered company has clearly seen the writing on the wall—it can no longer rest on its optical fibre laurels. Part of multi-billion-dollar mining conglomerate Vedanta Group, Sterlite is one of the top 10 fibre suppliers worldwide, catering to around 12% of global demand.

Fibre, though, isn’t the opportunity it once was. The nervous system of a telecom network, fibre has become increasingly commoditised as cheap, Chinese-made fibre flooded the market. “The prices came down from $8/fibre kilometre to ~$6 between 2018 and 2020,” said a Mumbai-based analyst who covers Sterlite. While Sterlite saw revenues of Rs 5,154 crore (~$701 million) in the year ended March 2020, its profitability declined by 16%. From Rs 563 crore (~$76 million) in the previous fiscal, its profit after tax dropped to Rs 472 crore (~$64 million).

“The market will take at least one year before the demand for fibre rollout again picks up, when operators globally will start the 5G rollout,” said another Mumbai-based analyst. 

Sterlite isn’t one for waiting. Instead, it’s looking further up the telecoms value stream for growth. Indeed, according to global consulting firm Analysys Mason, the new areas Sterlite is focusing on—like wireless, cloud and edge computing, as well as 5G technology—are must-haves. By 2026, these will account for the largest chunk of capital expenditure by telecom operators globally.

In an investor presentation in August, Agarwal declared that Sterlite is no longer a fibre cable company. He unveiled his roadmap for what he dubbed Sterlite 3.0—the integration of all its competencies, new and old. The scope is breathtaking. Sterlite 3.0 would encompass specialisation in network-building, a la Tata Communications; telecom software and system integration, like a Tech Mahindra or a Tata Consultancy Services; and telecom equipment manufacturing, like a Nokia or a Cisco.

According to Aggarwal, Sterlite’s addressable market would more than double—from $30 billion to $75 billion—by 2023. “As a company [we are] becoming an end-to-end digital network integrator for our customers,” he told investors.

Already, the stock markets have rewarded the publicly-listed Sterlite for its ambition.


Pratap Vikram Singh

Pratap is based out of Delhi and covers policy and myriad intersections with the other sectors, most notably technology. He has worked with Governance Now for seven years, reporting on technology, telecom policy, and the social sector.

View Full Profile

Available exclusively to subscribers of The Ken India

This story is a part of The Ken India edition. Subscribe. Questions?


Annual Subscription

12-month access to 200+ stories, archive of 800+ stories from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 2,750


Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 60+ new stories with 3-months worth of archives from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 1,750


Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

Rs. 500


Annual Subscription

12-month access to 150+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 120


Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 35+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 50


Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

$ 20



What is The Ken?

The Ken is a subscription-only business journalism website and app that provides coverage across two editions - India and Southeast Asia.

What kind of stories do you write?

We publish sharp, original and reported stories on technology, business and healthcare. Our stories are forward-looking, analytical and directional — supported by data, visualisations and infographics.

We use language and narrative that is accessible to even lay readers. And we optimise for quality over quantity, every single time.

What do I get if I subscribe?

For subscribers of the India edition, we publish a new story every weekday, a premium daily newsletter, Beyond The First Order and a weekly newsletter - The Nutgraf.

For subscribers of the Southeast Asia edition, we publish a new story three days a week and a weekly newsletter, Strait Up.

The annual subscription will get you complete, exclusive access to our archive of previously published stories for your edition, along with access to our subscriber-only mobile apps, our premium comment sections, our newsletter archives and several other gifts and benefits.

Do I need to pay separately for your premium newsletters?

Nope. Paid, premium subscribers of The Ken get our newsletters delivered for free.

Does a subscription to the India edition grant me access to Southeast Asia stories? Or vice-versa?

Afraid not. Each edition is separate with its own subscription plan. The India edition publishes stories focused on India. The Southeast Asia edition is focused on Southeast Asia. We may occasionally cross-publish stories from one edition to the other.

Do you offer an all-access joint subscription for both editions?

Not yet. If you’d like to access both editions, you’ll have to purchase two subscriptions separately - one for India and the other for Southeast Asia.

Do you offer any discounts?

No. We have a zero discounts policy.

Is there a free trial I can opt for?

We don’t offer any trials, but you can sign up for a free account which will give you access to the weekly free story, our archive of free stories and summaries of the paid stories. You can stay on the free account as long as you’d like.

Do you offer refunds?

We allow you to sample our journalism for free before signing up, and after you do, we stand by its quality. But we do not offer refunds.

I am facing some trouble purchasing a subscription. What can I do?

Please write to us at [email protected] detailing the error or queries.