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3D maps powering 5G deployments – National security perspective

Leveraging geospatial technology and geospatial knowledge infrastructure for development and sustainability is important for emerging economies like India. Geospatial data is now widely accepted as a critical national infrastructure and information resource with proven societal, economic, and environmental value.

Geospatial technology occupies a fundamental role in helping visualize, understand, and inform decision making in all key sectors including mining, ocean exploration, water, disaster management, banking, e-commerce, finance, agriculture and next generation telecom network planning and optimization.

The government acknowledges that the availability of highly accurate, comprehensive geospatial data will benefit diverse sectors of economy and will boost innovation in the country. India presently relies heavily on foreign resources for mapping technologies and services.

Geospatial information sector was heavily regulated in the country overriding national security concerns. The older obligations, that required entities to approach multiple authorities including survey of India, ministry of defence, finance for permissions to get access to data and licensing their use.

In February 2021, the Ministry of Science & Technology liberalised the heavily regulated Geospatial sector by issuing of the “Guidelines for acquiring and producing Geospatial Data and Geospatial Data Services including Maps” which was further amended in November 2022.

It is common for governments to regulate the handling and distribution of high accuracy geospatial data for national security reasons. By keeping such data within the country, the government can ensure that the data is used in a responsible and secure manner and that any potential security risks are minimized.

With these guidelines, there shall not be any prior requirement of approval, security clearance or any other restriction on the collection, generation, preparation, dissemination. Storage, publication and or digitization of geospatial data and maps with in the territory of India. Individual, companies, and govt agencies shall be free to process the acquired geospatial data and build applications.

As per the market estimates, India’s geospatial economy is expected to cross ₹63,000 crore by 2025 at a growth rate of 12.8 percent and to provide employment to more than 10 lakh people. Liberalisation of the mapping industry will spur domestic innovation.

The National Geospatial Policy, 2022 issued by the Ministry of Science & Technology is the game changer, which is framed with an objective to strengthen the geospatial sector to support national development, economic prosperity, and a thriving information economy. The policy recognizes the importance of locally available and locally relevant maps and geospatial data in improved planning and management of resources and better serving the specific needs of the Indian population.

The guidelines defines the accuracy threshold and resolution thresholds for the geospatial data / products for positional accuracy i.e. 1.0 meter for horizontal accuracy and 3.0 meters for vertical position.

All foreign entities will be governed by these guidelines and are allowed to generate and serve the maps and imagery layers as long as long as data is not finer than as defined by the threshold limits. They are not allowed to acquire, or host or process or resell or redistribute and provide services in India with accuracy better than the threshold. For that they must have collaboration with Indian entities only.

Under no circumstance will mapping data or its derived product of quality better than the threshold will be allowed to be transmitted to or reach the server of any non-Indian entity in India or abroad. Geospatial guidelines will impact the level of details of maps produced by a non-Indian entity, if they don’t partner with and Indian organisation.

Also, there is provision of a negative list of sensitive attributes that would require regulation before anyone can acquire and /or use such attribute data. Government will notify this list along with stipulated regulations. Through this government will utilize this list of sensitive attributes to oversee this restricted class of data, by determining who can collect it and to what extent. The list of sensitive attributes with their respective thresholds and associated regulations can help protect defence and national security interests as well.

The geospatial data/maps used for e-commerce and logistic platforms will differ from the one used for ocean explorations and mining, telecom and other critical applications because of threshold level of the sensitive attributes could be differently notified across these sectors because of different accuracy requirements. By relying on the list of sensitive attributes, govt will regulate what geospatial data can be captured and used.

In the past two decades, Indian companies had emerged themselves as global powerhouse in the mapping segment. Most of the global mapping companies like Google, Apple, HERE & TomTom etc, approach Indian companies to execute their mapwork in India.

In the telecom sector, 5G in India is coming with the promise of not only multi-Gbps speeds, low latency and higher reliability but also a significant contribution to the economy in the coming years. According to reports, 80 percent of Indian enterprises have kept 5G at the top of their priorities list and GIS will be the backbone technology for India’s 5G success story.

Indian GIS/mapping companies have helped telecom companies globally to plan and optimise their wireless and fibre networks by providing high precision 2D and 3D maps. High resolution 3D maps helps play an important role in network planning of 4G & 5G mobile technology networks, especially in high frequency bands and millimetres waves radio planning. Similarly, fibre/FTTX planning, and inventory management requires detailed road cross sections and details of existing obstacles on the road. With the advent of 4G/5G enterprise/captive network roll-outs, most of wireless data and voice is now happening in-building.

It is therefore critical to have floor-wise planning for which high resolution 3D maps are required. Furthermore, fixed wireless 5G for providing fixed broadband using 5G is getting lot of traction. To provide high quality service would require, accurate 3D building maps.
In mining and ocean exploration segment also, high resolution 3D maps can provide valuable information for resource discovery, mapping of underwater features, and improved safety and efficiency in mining operations. They can also aid in understanding the ocean environment, which is critical for ocean resource management and the protection of ocean ecosystems.

Though this move for liberalised geospatial data is lauded by the domestic industry as it encourages innovation and provide huge business opportunity under Atmanirbhar Bharat mission, but there are apprehensions about the compliance of the guidelines. Its appreciated for ease of doing business the govt has put the onus on the domestic and foreign entities to comply to the guidelines and submit self-certification with respect to the compliances to threshold. As geospatial data and services are being utilized across sectors, it is important to sensitise the end user and buyers on the compliance of the guidelines to ensure that the sensitive attributes and high resolution data better than the thresholds is fully complied through Indian entities.

India is on the cusp of 5G and broadband revolution. At a time, when the government gives utmost importance to national security aspects, telco and equipment OEMs should work with domestic Indian companies for high resolution Maps requirement. In the overall context of the network, maps are extremely security sensitive although it is relatively very small portion of overall network roll-out cost. Any small deviation from the policy could also put their business at risk. Therefore, the government must mandate the telcos/OEMs to engage only with domestic companies for high resolution maps. This will be aligning with the NGP 2022 objectives.

The article is authored by Sanjeev Kakkar, a Telecom Expert. He has held various CXO level positions in technology companies. Views expressed are personal.

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