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Jio proposes joint 4G/5G network for railway safety and PPDR services

Reliance Jio has proposed to build and operate a common 4G/5G network for safety and security applications of Railways and for public protection and disaster relief (PPDR) related services, using the 700 MHz band assigned by the government to Railways.

In its submission to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), Jio has said the spectrum in the band should not be restricted only to Railways but there should be a common network infrastructure which can be used by Railways and disaster relief agencies to deliver a seamless first response to any calamity or event.

The model proposed by Jio is similar to FirstNet authority and AT&T public-private partnership in the US that facilitates seamless communication between disaster relief and other key organisations in case of human-made or natural disasters. This is crucial when the public network becomes congested or fails.

Jio’s proposal has come after it earlier opposed the government’s decision to allocate additional 5 MHz spectrum worth over Rs 19,000 crore to Indian Railways in the 700 MHz band. Railways has been given this spectrum to implement anti-collision technology Kavach and meet its requirements of passenger safety, track-side communication, train and way-side telemetry, video surveillance, etc.

“We understand that suitable radio spectrum is required for setting up safety and security applications along the network of Indian Railways. The best option would be to assign this spectrum for Railways and PPDR, which will be built and operated by a professionally qualified service provider,” said UK Srivastava, president at Reliance Jio at the Trai’s open house discussion on the subject on Friday.

According to Srivastava, the CSP will be able to build a high class 4G/5G network using the same spectrum all across the country and would also ensure that all other government agencies and first responders like police, ambulances and fire safety have access to this network.

Besides seamless communication in case of emergency, the other reason given by Jio for CSP model was that the 700 MHz spectrum for Railways will remain vacant all across the country barring the railway tracks, stations and limited area around the tracks. This will not lead to efficient utilisation of spectrum, it said.

Industry executives said the company is also looking to open up its possibilities of further revenue stream by proposing the idea of CSP for Railways network.

Railways ministry representatives, however, were not convinced with Jio’s idea of CSP and said it is essential for Railways to have its own captive network.

“In the recent survey of Delhi-Howrah (railway network) more than 25% blackspots have been found in Jio network. So, when it comes to a common service provider be it a government or private entity, unless and until the regulations are very strict like in case of Korea, we will not be able to ensure that the safety application of Indian Railways will be able to be met with,” Aruna Singh, additional member, telecom at ministry of Railways, told Trai.

“Railways has a contract with Jio and Airtel all along the track to provide signals and both the TSPs have a shortage of more than 20% (in coverage) of track,” Singh said, adding that in this condition, it is mandatory for Indian Railways to have its own captive network for basic requirements be it preventive maintenance or online maintenance or items associated with locos and coaches.

Railways executives said in case of the Balasore train accident last year, the telecom network along the area was not able to handle the communication and therefore, the demand for captive network is there, besides developing the Kavach technology.

Besides Jio, telecom operator Vodafone Idea said the government should opt for spectrum sharing in the 700 MHz between Railways and NCRTC through already assigned spectrum. The Broadband India Forum (BIF) favored the government’s move of assigning spectrum to Railways but said it must vacate the 900 MHz band and other crucial bands, which are crucial for mobile communications.

Airtel expressed concerns over Indian Railways using the spectrum for commercial operations and urged the government to have this condition in the spectrum assigning document that the said spectrum will be not be used for commercial activities such as providing internet on the trains, stations, etc.

The Union Cabinet in February approved allocation of additional 5 MHz spectrum in 700 MHz band to Railways for Kavach technology. Additional 5 MHz spectrum, which was earlier provisionally assigned in the 700 MHz band, was also approved for NCRTC (National Capital Region Transport Corporation) for the train control system for Regional Rapid Transit System (RRTS) corridor.

The complete 45 MHz of spectrum worth over Rs 1.7 trillion in the 700 MHz band is exhausted, therefore the same has not been included in the upcoming spectrum auction. Financial Express

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