April 2023, Renewable India, Mr. Shriprakash R. Pandey, CMD, Commtel Networks:
The Chairman and Managing Director of Commtel Networks, Mr. Shriprakash R. Pandey with over two decades of experience in the international technology and engineering companies is an accomplished leader. He has been instrumental in Commtel Networks’ development as a prominent supplier of end-to-end and integrated digital solutions across industries.
Commtel Networks flourished under his capable direction, and it now stands as a tribute to his leadership, passion, and vision. We are thrilled to have the chance to benefit from Mr. Pandey’s extensive knowledge and perceptions of the telecoms sector.
Commtel Networks is a corporation that has long been at the forefront of the sectors like Transportation, Oil & Gas, Energy, people all over the world with cutting-edge and reliable digital and AI solutions. The company has established a reputation for expertise in the design, development, and deployment of solutions that satisfy its clients’ changing needs by placing a heavy emphasis on research and development.
In this interview, we talked about the background, goals, and present product and service offerings of Commtel Networks as well as their future aspirations. Read more to discover more about this dynamic and forward-thinking business.
1. What are some of the company’s notable successes?
Commtel Networks was founded in 1998 and this is our 25th year of business. In all these years, Commtel has witnessed an average growth of 40% year on year and, we have never made a loss. I believe, these are important markers showcasing longevity and the trust that our customers have shown in us for about two and a half decades.
Looking at where we stand today in the market, there have been numerous notable moments that have helped us get here. As a technology company with an extensive experience as a telecom systems integration company operating only in the Critical National Infrastructure space, we have come a long way, both in terms of the solutions we are delivering and the geographies we are operational in.
When we started undertaking projects as a Telecom Systems Integrator (TSI) back in 1999-2000, GAIL JLPL was our major project. At that time, it was the longest pipeline having 84 sites. Since then, there has been no looking back and we have worked with major Oil & Gas companies like IOCL, GAIL, BPCL, HPCL, GSPL and ONGC. In 2007-08 we implemented telecom systems for the longest and biggest gas pipeline, East-West Pipeline, project of Reliance.
In 2007-2010, we expanded our operations in Middle East (UAE). This move further pushed our growth and we could offer our solutions to giant global oil and gas companies like ADNOC, Aramco, KOC, QP, etc. From our UAE office, we secured and worked on our largest ever project for KIPIC in Kuwait. This, I believe, was a game changer as it catapulted us into a different league altogether in the international market.
The inception of our FOSS (Fiber Optic Sensing Solutions) team at the right time was another critical step in our growth journey. With this, we not only became a strong player in the Pipeline Intrusion Detection market, but also got the opportunity to partner with the O & G industry in India to embrace this new technology that resulted in savings worth millions of dollars for this industry.
Going forward, we have plans to focus on the North American market and have already invested in the required infrastructure and people in the US to support our ambitions. I certainly see this developing into a great market for us in the coming times.
So yes, there have been plenty of pivotal moments for us in this 25 year long journey. All these moments have helped us become the Commtel as we see it today and, each one of them stems from the abiding faith our customers have shown in us.
2. What types of technologies does Commtel Networks use to guarantee the highest standards of reliability?
Being a technology company, our solutions are backed by our clear focus on innovation and adoption of cutting-edge technologies available today. As we all know, in the tech world, things progress rapidly and there are new developments all the time. Training our people on upcoming technologies is always of crucial importance for us and we invest a lot of time, efforts and money in it.
The industries we cater to demand the highest level of reliability, since they are in mission-critical sectors like oil and gas, power, transportation, etc. Disruption of services in these sectors can have far-reaching consequences, and they are subject to extremely stringent SLAs.
Based on the customer needs, Commtel builds solutions which have the requisite amount of redundancies and fail-over mechanisms incorporated into the design from day one. Availability targets of 99.999% or better are often required across end-to-end operation. This is achieved through selection of proven hardware with high MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure).
Let us take a look at high availability designs for some of the critical systems and technologies provided by Commtel:
(i) For fibre-optic transport systems (FOTS), reliability is designed through hardware and also network design. Critical operation affecting hardware such as switch fabrics and power supplies are provided in redundant hot-swap configuration so that faulty units can be changed without shutting down the system. At the network level, multiple paths are provided between nodes, using techniques like 1+1 multiplex section protection (MSP). Here, two paths, one primary and another secondary, are provided between the nodes. Under normal conditions, traffic flows through the primary path while the health of secondary path is continuously monitored. In case of a loss of communication on the primary path due to some fault, such as a cable break, the traffic immediately switches to the secondary path. This switchover happens seamlessly and without affecting user experience or application performance. Once the primary path is restored, the traffic once again switches back to the same seamlessly.
Even higher levels of path protection can also be designed with more than one back-up paths, such as in mesh networks, and also by implementing multiple protocols in different network layers.
(ii) For radio networks, high availability is designed by using redundant controllers in the base station, as well as with N+1 protection for transceivers. Techniques like space diversity, frequency diversity and polarization diversity are used to improve the reliability of coverage. Careful consideration is given to fading and multi-path interference. Another factor to consider is that there should be no intermodulation products due to other transmitters on the same tower. In case of multi-site networks, co-channel and adjacent channel interference studies are carried out before allocating proper frequencies. Trunked radio systems are typically used for voice communication. Here, the SLAs define the percentage of attempted calls that should be processed without being queued, and the maximum permissible queuing delay for the remaining attempted calls. This forms the basis for sufficiency of network resources such as the number of channels or carriers. Typically for 300 users in a plant, a service level of 99% (with no delay) and 1% within acceptable delay can be achieved with 7 channels (two Tetra carriers).
(iii) PAGA systems are critical systems since they are required to be functional during emergencies. Hence these are powered with UPS with long back-up times to ensure compliance to safety standards. The cables used in these systems are often required to be fire resistant to IEC 60331. In terms of the design, hardware redundancy is provided through duplicated controllers and N+1 protection for audio amplifiers. In extremely critical operations such as offshore platforms and certain onshore facilities as well, the entire PAGA system is designed in A+B configuration, where, in addition to the central system hardware, all the field devices such as speakers and beacons are doubled and connected in separate loops. This affords the highest amount of reliability. Any single hardware or wiring failure throughout the system will only result in a maximum drop of 3dB in the output sound level. The system is sized so that even with this 3dB drop, the announcements and audio alarms can be heard throughout the plant at sufficient levels above ambient noise.
Similar strategies are adopted in other critical systems such as physical access control and intrusion detection, process and security CCTV, telephony, hotlines, etc.
3. How does Commtel Networks plan to create cutting-edge products and services? Does sustainability play a part in this?
As I mentioned earlier, innovation and adoption of newer technologies is and will always be our focus. This is what helps us deliver the best services, adapt to changing times and changing customer needs and, continue improving our services. I am sure this focus will help us advance in the future too and provide many more cutting-edge solutions to our customers.
Commtel released its ESG Ambition Statement at the beginning of the FY 2022-23. This has definitely ushered in an era of adopting various sustainable practices in our operations. One huge change to note, we have drastically reduced the use of one-time plastic bottles, and, in our headquarters, we have completely stopped using these bottles. Moving forward, sustainability will certainly play a huge role in shaping the culture of the organisation.
Since this was our first year of adopting sustainable practices, we decided to look inwards and made a lot of changes in the way we deliver projects, embraced new technologies.
One obvious area where we thought we could improve was in the printing of papers. This financial year, we initiated a change in testing of the equipment in the presence of our customers. We tried this approach for two projects. If you ask why the focus on this approach, it is because of the usage of print outs. In the integration and testing phase, a lot of prints were required to be taken including the engineering design documents. We now use a substitute for this as a tablet that can easily showcase the required data. Just for two projects, this approach helped us avoid around 2100 prints.
Apart from this, a lot of the equipment that we deliver in our projects is customer-driven and based on prescribed project specifications. In this financial year, we have delivered a project that had a set-up of solar powered CCTV cameras. We managed to successfully deliver that. As we saw in this case, the drive is often from the customers’ end. As an agile technology company, we will always strive to partner with them on such initiatives and deploy the latest technologies that rightly fit their requirements.
So yes, sustainability will be a key focus going forward and, we are slowly making a lot of internal changes and focusing on adopting sustainable habits in every way we can.
4. How can Commtel Networks guarantee client happiness?
We believe that, in our industry, the key differentiator is the level of customer engagement and service quality apart from a thorough technical understanding. If we look at our order book, 70% of the orders every year are repeat orders from existing customers. This is a true testament of our work and how well we deliver on our promises. Since our inception in 1998, we have been a very customer-centric organisation, and that is evident in our smooth delivery of projects around the world.
We have always set out to be that one-stop shop for our customers when it comes to anything related to the systems and solutions we supply. By continuing to gain relevant technical knowledge and continually improving our processes to match the customer requirements, our vast experience and the track record of delivering value, we are certain that we will continue to guarantee client happiness.
5. What are your company’s long-term objectives?
Considering that we have been steadfast in our focus of servicing industries (read customers) in the Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) sectors, invariably our long-term objectives are closely intertwined with those of our customers and in many ways with the nations where our customers operate.
Higher infrastructure investments in CNI sectors viz. Oil & Gas, Power, Transportation etc. – be it expansion of existing facilities or fresh sustainability-focused projects (including energy transition) – create larger opportunities for Commtel. With our presence in India, GCC, and North America we are better placed to capitalize on such opportunities besides de-risking our business of over-dependence on a single geography.
The rise of IoT, big data, ML and AI have led customers seeking diversified offerings – sophisticated services viz. data analytics, IoT solutions, AI solutions. Hence, besides strengthening our existing businesses i.e., MSS (Multi System Solutions) and FOSS (Fiber Optic Sensing Solutions), which is driven by capex by our customers, the aim is to offer customer-centric software solutions, built proprietarily, based on our domain expertise in unified critical communications and leveraging cutting-edge technologies, targeting the opex of our customers.
From a business perspective, we are looking at CAGR of 20% in the next 3 years.
Importantly, we stay relevant for our customers and increase our contribution significantly to the growth of the respective economy through our customers.
6. What was the impetus behind the creation of Commtel Networks?
Before Commtel was formed, I was working with an Australian multinational, Olex Cables. In 1998, the company decided to withdraw its India operations. This sudden change was about to affect all the 14 team members that were working for the India operations. I was definitely not ready to just sit with the news and not be able to do something. That is what, you can say, planted the seed in my mind about founding Commtel Networks along with all the team members that were working for Olex.
So, honestly, it was just this humble thought and the urge to change the situation for all the team members, that pushed us to form Commtel Networks. When we started, none of us were sure about what will happen next, how far we will go, etc. We only focused on doing our best, learnt the tricks of the trade along the way, figured out opportunities that could add to our growth and delivered on our promises to the customers.
7. How has Commtel Networks changed throughout the years?
As I mentioned, we have been in the business for two and a half decades now, and hence, there have been huge changes within the organisation at various levels internally, and also potential wise. Today, I believe, we are a confident organisation and can be looked at as one of the market leaders in the area of expertise that we operate in.
With such a wealth of experience of 25 years, we have a rich portfolio of projects to showcase. These projects have been successfully delivered in five different continents with over 500 different customers. In order to achieve this, a lot had to change in terms of recruitment of new and talented professionals, establishment of new offices as we did in UAE and the US, strengthening our infrastructure to be able to cater to the growing business needs, etc.
Also, I personally believe in being equipped for a change or a leap well in advance rather than reacting to circumstances or responding to requirements. This proactive approach has been a cornerstone of all the positive changes that have taken place within Commtel.
All in all, we have seen constant growth, expansion of operations, continuous learning and, most importantly, still maintaining our value of being a dependable partner to our customers no matter where our projects are being delivered.
8. What distinguishes Commtel Networks from its competitors?
I would not like to critically compare ourselves with other companies. Rather, I would like to talk about some of the things that went right for us. Undeniably, first and foremost, is our people. Almost all the members of the core team or the A team within Commtel have been with us right from the beginning and have worked their way up the ladder. Hence, a solid base and the wealth of knowledge of on-ground experience that our team has throughout the past 25 years of changing technologies, situations, circumstances, etc. can never be replaced.
At Commtel, taking on a project is always a promise to our customer about the seamless delivery right till the end. No matter what challenges come our way, we face them together and collaboratively work out the solutions.
This customer-centric approach plus a clear focus on training, technology and innovation is something that has kept us going for so long and, I am sure, will continue to be our strength in the future too.
9. What were some of the bottlenecks you’ve previously encountered and how you overcame them?
As we moved towards becoming a global organisation and started to deliver projects in different parts of the world, one obvious challenge that we faced was the varied and peculiar import laws that a lot of these countries had. However, as I mentioned earlier, there is no backing away from any challenge for us. We learnt about the laws, figured out the solutions and have managed to deliver projects in so many new geographies consistently.
Every new engagement with a customer is a new opportunity at both ends and, every new project brings a fresh challenge, even if we have previously delivered projects in that country or with the same customer. But our long-standing experience now gives us the ability to seamlessly manage challenges in a mature way. We make sure to maintain constant and clear communication with the customer and engage with our sub vendors continually.
It will not be wrong if I say that, now challenges don’t scare us. In fact, they push us to continually improvise, innovate and grow.
10. How has Commtel Networks’ business model been changed by the technological landscape?
We have always been a customer-centric organisation and hence, the business model has always shifted along the lines of evolving customer needs.
The technological advancements that we adopted have been strongly driven by the customer requirements. When a customer shared their challenges with us, we have looked at all the available tech solutions, try and test them and figure out the best fit for client needs. We have also partnered with relevant tech service providers along the way and built solutions that would cater to the specific customer needs.
Technological landscape is constantly evolving, and we always make sure to keep ourselves abreast of all the latest developments, learn about them and be ready to utilise these wherever they are relevant.
DAS or Distributed Acoustic Sensing technology was another technology that was introduced to our customers by us. We used the technology to provide pipeline intrusion detection system to our clients which, in turn, helped them tremendously and also saved a lot of monies they were spending for the security of the pipelines.
There was also a time when we transitioned from a legacy TDM-based technology to latest and evolved optical packet-based technology. We adopted the latest technologies for our sector and designed solutions that would cater to our client needs.
And, as stated earlier, in recent years, the proliferation of new age/ cutting edge technologies led us on the path of exploring a new business line viz. software solutions. Solutions that would become an integral part of all our future offerings, providing immense value(add) to our customers.
11. How do you incorporate sustainability into your working model?
I believe, the attitude that underpins the now freely used word “Sustainability” is that of Mindfulness. This being the first year of us introducing ESG and other sustainability objectives within the organization, our primary focus has been on recording the data that was previously not being monitored. This recording of data gives us a perspective on how we, as an organization, have been operating and shall also serve as a benchmark for us to improve from here on.
The above example that I had mentioned about going digital and avoiding paper prints wherever possible, reduction of single use plastic bottles, elimination of tissue papers from office premises and also eliminating independent dustbins for every employee have been some of the simple measures that have contributed to overall waste reduction and a sense of contribution towards “the good” for all the Commtelians.
We have also started an initiative called “Fridays for sustainability” wherein we hold various workshops, talks and events to spread awareness on different aspects of sustainability with the focus on the environmental part.
Some initiatives like encouraging car-pooling, avoiding use of tissue papers for a day be it in the office or at home are things that we are hoping will soon become a part of the culture of Commtel.
We are also associating with various ESG initiatives outside of our office premises either by sponsoring or supporting in numbers through our Commtelians.
Till now, it has been a mix of adopting eco-friendly practices, sustainability-focused communication educating Commtelians about their role in contributing to sustainable future and supporting sustainable initiatives and projects. Next, we are targeting responsible sourcing and supply chain management practices.
So, going ahead, sustainability will have to and surely is becoming a part of Commtel’s culture and we are increasingly being mindful of this perspective in just about everything that we do.