Headlines Interviews

Corning India: Fiber to Future

Having invented the world’s first low-loss optical fiber in 1970, Corning is a pioneering material science innovator. Its entry into India may change optical communication landscape forever.

We have known Corning forever, for its many distinct products and innovations-that have created numerous industries. Corning’s pioneering work in optical fiber, cable and connectivity has repeatedly helped its customers remove bottlenecks, overcome challenges and leverage opportunities.

Corning has been a manufacturer of optical fiber for decades. But in the last decade, it has transformed this business into a comprehensive provider of optical solutions across the telecom service provider (carrier), enterprise and wireless spaces.

Wire & Cable India recently had a chance to meet Mr. Rustom Desai, Managing Director, Corning India & Optical Communications Operations India, where he explained many things about the company’s optical communication business and its commitment to explore new frontiers in material sciences.

Mr. Desai is a true emerging markets leader and has been associated with Corning for 20 years. He has lived and worked for Corning in many countries including the US, China, Taiwan and India. 20 years of global leadership experience gives him what is needed to be in the top job in India, and to meet the expectations that this tough position demand of him.

What Corning has achieved in India is an uncommon feat (to Mr. Desai’s credit) – under his watch, Corning has built and started up a >US$100M state-of-the-art optical fiber manufacturing plant in Maharashtra in record time. Within the first 12 month of operations, Corning has emerged as a very significant force in the Indian telecommunications market.

The gist of what Mr. Desai had to say during the interview:

Wire & Cable India: Being a leading innovator in material science, Corning has a diverse business portfolio. Please give a brief outline of the business segments Corning is active in.

Rustom Desai: I will point you to some of our significant businesses:

Optical Communications, which provides innovative optical solutions to the carrier, enterprise and wireless spaces. The optical fiber and cable business is a part of this. Customers of this business include telecommunications operators, ecommerce companies, real estate developers and governments-anyone that is interested in building a world-class communications network.

Corning Glass Technologies, which supplies substrate glass used in TFT LCD displays, and glass for new and emerging displays. This division also makes a product, which I’m sure a lot of you have heard about, called Gorilla Glass. This is a break resistant cover glass that has revolutionized the durability of smartphones, tablets and laptops.

Corning Environmental Technologies makes catalytic converter substrates, diesel particulate filters and gasoline particulate filters for vehicle emission control. These products help clean the air we breathe. One of the areas where India can improve a lot is in tightening “clean air” regulations, thereby improving the quality of the air we breathe in our ever-growing cities. New Delhi is now the world’s most polluted city per the World Health Organization, and there are technologies out there that can help solve this problem.

Corning Life Sciences is a leading supplier of glass and plastic ware into the drug discovery and manufacture markets.

Besides these, we have many other Corning groups that are in the business of taking life-changing innovations to market.

We have a wide presence in India-a substantial Environmental and Life Sciences position, and growing Gorilla business. We also see a lot of promise in a new business called “Masterpix”-in which photographs can be printed directly on damage-resistant glass, thereby providing people with a very unique way to capture, display and hold on to special memories.

Then there is Optical Communication, where we are also growing really very fast. As you know, we have built a plant near Pune which started up two and half years ago. This plant has really taken our involvement with India’s telecommunications industry to a different level. It’s a game changer.

WCI: For us, Corning’s Optical Communications is of special interest. Beyond manufacturing optical fibers and cables, do you also provide any applications based solutions to the optical communication industry?

RD: Not really. But here is what we do provide:

Our strength lies in first understanding our customers’ needs and their pain points – whether it’s an e-Commerce company building a data center; a government building an FTTH network; or a telecom operator building a state of the art mobile/fixed line network. Armed with this insight, we attempt to provide the customers with products and solutions that directly and most effectively address their needs.

WCI: Share in brief your offerings in optical communication segment.

RD: From market segment standpoint, we think the optical communication market as carrier, enterprise or wireless market. Broadly speaking, Carriers are companies that build the networks for use by third parties. Enterprise customers build networks predominantly for their own use. And, Wireless are customers that are interested in offering a wireless in building solution (could be Carrier or Enterprise). Airtel and BharatNet are examples of Carrier in India. An IIT building a data center would be an example of a potential Enterprise customer. And, if DLF was developing a property with converged wireless service in it, that would be a Wireless customer.

Our Carrier product offerings extend from innovative optical fiber, to unique cables, to preconnectorized FTTH solutions. Examples of our newest optical fiber and cable would be Ultra fiber and MiniXtend cable. Both solve some very specific customer problems such as bend induced losses, attenuation and limited duct space. In FTTH, our products are all about allowing our customers to build networks that are highly scalable, future proof and require minimal field installation work.

In the Enterprise space, we have a whole host of cable and fiber management solutions, and cables that help our customers deploy high speed data centers quickly and reliably. In India, two of the big problems in data center builds are power consumption and space. Our products help solve both these problems while ensuring that the facilities are ready to migrate to 40 and 100GBPS when required to do so.

WCI: What exactly are you doing presently on the data center side?

RD: Data center builds in India are growing very fast. As we show our technology to our potential customers, we find that those who really believe in building data centers for the future use are very attracted to our products. Our customer list is growing, and I hope we are developing a list of very satisfied customers!

WCI: How is Corning’s optical fiber plant in Maharashtra, India doing? Share some current activities of Corning with regards to optical fiber, cable, and connectivity solutions in India.

RD: In Chakan, Maharashtra we have a facility which is a mega project in the State Govt.’s terms – this means we invested over Rs. 500 crores to build it. It’s a state-of-the-art optical fiber manufacturing facility which started up about two and a half years ago. Our goal was to have a facility that made world class product that we could sell in any market in the world. The team has delivered on that goal, product from this plant is not only sold in India, it’s also exported to a wide range of countries across the globe.

The product that comes out of the plant is essentially transparent from our customer’s stand point as to whether it has been made in India or it’s been made in the US – essentially the same product. In order to enable this, we brought our then newest technology to India. And, we hired some of the smartest people in the industry.

The plant, thanks to the Govt. of Maharashtra, has been a real success story. It took us only 373 days to get from breaking ground to making product! That’s a world record for us! We also have a great team in place now – more than 200 young Corning minds making world class product!

The market acceptance of our products has been excellent. Our value proposition is that “we are going to give you a product that’s the best in the world, and we’ll make sure we are competitive. So, please give us a shot.” Customers tend to like that message, and we will endeavor to hold on to their trust in our products and technologies.

Commercially, we have come a long way since the plant started up. Of course, there are always things that we can improve on. We take customer feedback very seriously, and hope that we have built a team that can address customer needs and issues quickly and effectively.

WCI: Major projects served with the Indian facility?

RD: We can’t give the names of specific customers. What I can say is that we are present in all segments in the Indian Carrier market, and are growing in Enterprise.

WCI: Recently, Corning’s chairman Wendell P. Weeks said that multiple businesses are driving company’s growth. How does Corning manage so many business segments and that too on global scale?

RD: The things that bind Corning’s disparate business together are our belief in innovation, and our values.

Corning is a non-stop innovation machine. We spend large sums of money on R&D. Our understanding of material science is deep. So, you would not think that catalytic converters and optical fiber have much in common. But both emerged from Corning’s innovation engine and material science expertise.

Our values are the other factor that binds us together. Corning personnel across the world believe in and live by them. We believe that when the going gets tough, the tough are guided by their values.

WCI: Corning completed the acquisition of Samsung Electronics’ fiber optics business in March. How much enhancement do you see now in terms of market access and product portfolio for optical communication products in Asia?

RD: What we got from Samsung acquisition us three things. First, we got a set of really committed people who have been in the industry a long time. Second, we got access to a set of customers that we did not have earlier. Third, it gave us a set of assets in Korea and China that we believe will enhance our position in those markets.

WCI: Corning also acquired TR Manufacturing, an industry-leading provider of fiber-optic and copper cable/component interconnects and electro-mechanical assemblies. How much does that diversify the Corning Optical Communication?

RD: This acquisition has allowed us to do is to diversify the kind of customers in our Enterprise portfolio. TR’s products, solutions and customers are highly complementary to ours. We are really happy with this acquisition as well.

WCI: Where does Corning find India now, and heading for in future, in terms of entire telecommunication and optical communication scenario? Does Corning find adequate room for its communication business growth in India?

RD: India is at the very beginning of its optical communication journey if you think about it from macro stand point. Yes, there 800 million plus cellphone users, but data services is in its very early days. Unlike in many other countries, data services are being driven by wireless, not fixed line. The Indian consumer is just starting to enjoy the benefits of data service-be it accessing websites, streaming music, gaming, or watching live TV on their handsets. Data service requires 100th the amount of bandwidth that voice service does. So imagine first taking the bandwidth use per person up by say 100 times versus current levels. Then scale that to 1.2 billion people. This is the challenge that the Indian telecom operators are dealing with-and the solution lies in the build out of vast optical fiber-based networks!

The other trend that is also driving demand for our products is the government’s “Digital India” and “Smart Cities” initiatives. Both will require investment in communications infrastructure, and have the potential to lift millions out of poverty by giving them access to information and services such as eEducation, eGoernance and eHealth.

WCI: Congratulation to Corning for second consecutive ENERGY STAR® Partner of the Year 2015! Tell us something about Corning’s sustainability commitments now and in time to come.

RD: Glass making is relatively energy intensive. But, as a company, we do everything we possibly can to reduce our carbon footprint. A great example is in our Pune plant where we now have a 200 KW solar installation; the entire roof of our plant is covered with solar cells, generating 3-5 percent of our entire unit’s needs. No one told us to do this, nor did we get any prize for doing so. But, we believed that it was the right thing to do and so we went ahead and invested. This is what makes me proud of the company I work for.