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5.9-Lakh Telecom Towers On Air, Unaffected By Lockdown

India’s 5.93-lakh telecom towers are so far unaffected by the lockdown with no downtime of services but this could change if technicians are not permitted to move around for repair works and for refuelling diesel generator sets.

“In many States, police are not letting technicians to move around for repair and maintenance work, while there were instances of them being manhandled also. As of now there is no downtime, but if people are not permitted to move around, the situation is likely to change,” Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI) Director-General Rajan S. Mathews told BusinessLine.

According to TR Dua, Director-General of Tower & Infrastructure Providers’ Association (TAIPA), there were no disruptions as telecom services are exempted under the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Act.

To ensure continuity of services, TAIPA formed a special task force to oversee the operational preparedness across the country.

The region-wise task force (North, South, East and West) focusses on issuance of orders from enforcement agencies, movement of telecom personnel, and procedure and format to get passes. At some places, TAIPA officials were the nodal officers for issuance of passes for the telecom industry.

TAIPA had also asked the Department of Telecommunications to write to Chief Secretaries of all States to ensure movement of telecom field engineers.

“This was required for maintaining telecom sites, ensuring power and diesel supplies. Initially, there were issues in getting passes for the telecom personnel in some States such as Punjab, Haryana and Delhi,” Dua added.

Now only 20 per cent of the total telecom employees — those on frontlines like customer care, network operations centre and critical functions — are reporting for work, with the remaining working from home. The three private operators – Reliance Jio Infocomm, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea – employ about 12,000-15,000 personnel per firm, and State-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd stand about 70,000 people.

“In the rural areas, while towers and telecom infrastructure are supported by electricity, we also have battery and diesel backups. In case of diesel-powered towers, it has to be replenished. We have requested the DoT and Ministry of Home Affairs to grant passes to our technicians to ensure refilling of diesel,” Mathews added.

No additional spectrum needed

The telecom operators are of opinion that they don’t require additional spectrum to maintain stability and quality of the networks, as traffic has flattened.

The reasons for flattening included streaming service providers reducing their content to standard definition format from High Definition, local municipalities working with operators to bring sealed towers back on line, redistribution of traffic on the network, COAI’s Mathews added.

Data consumption up

Due to the ‘work from home’ policy for both public and private employees following the Covid-19 outbreak, there has been a 30 per cent rise in data consumption and this will continue during the lockdown period. Certain metropolitan cities such as Hyderabad and Bengaluru have posted 70 per cent rise in cellular network data consumption since the lockdown came into efect.

“Telecom comes under essential services and based on our letter, DoT had issued circular to all the State chief secretaries to ensure movement of telecom personnel, diesel supply and grid power on priority. Under National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Act, telecom services were exempted. This also formed the basis of subsequent State orders. As a result, all the States, while issuing lockdown orders, exempted telecom services from restrictions,” Dua said.

“Initially, there were issues in getting passes for the telecom personnel in some States such as Punjab, Haryana and Delhi. In such situations, the State units have been taking help from the State-level nodal officer. We have represented industry concerns in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and North East,” he added.

―The Hindu Business Line

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