Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio Infocomm may roll out ‘cells on wheels’ (CoWs) to ease network congestion amid an upsurge in home internet and video services consumption because of lockdowns.
A CoW site is a piece of passive infrastructure on which base stations and antennae can be mounted and quickly wheeled for beefing up capacity and coverage in a locality facing network congestion. Telcos will seek approvals from local municipalities to press CoWs into action only after the telecom department clears additional spectrum allocations to address the data consumption surge.
A Vodafone Idea spokesperson said the company is deploying capacities across (India) using all means, including “addition of CoW sites” wherever appropriate. “We have also requested DoT to clear our pending applications for spectrum allocation and are hopeful it will expedite our spectrum liberalisation requests and regularise our backhaul spectrum as well,” the spokesperson added.
Rajan Mathews, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), said telcos would shortly engage with tower infrastructure partners to map locations seeing a sudden surge in home internet consumption.
Mathews said phone companies are awaiting the government’s go-ahead on the industry’s additional spectrum needs before setting Operation CoWs into motion. The COAI represents Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea. “We’ve written to telecom secretary Anshu Prakash seeking additional short-term allocations of both access spectrum, primarily in the 1800 Mhz band, as well as backhaul airwaves in the E and V bands,” Mathews told ET.
“Telcos will seek approvals from local municipalities for swiftly deploying the CoWs after DoT clears the additional spectrum requested…operators are in talks with tower partners and gear vendors to ensure adequate base stations, antennae are available for this,” Mathews added.
“Internet consumption is bound to rise and a judicious deployment of CoWs would not only handle surges in data consumption, but even potentially induce mobile users to sign up for bigger mobile/home broadband plans, boosting average revenue per user ,” Rajiv Sharma, research head at SBICap Securities, told ET.
Sanjay Kapoor, ex-CEO of Bharti Airtel, said unlike normal mobile towers, which would take ages to install as they entail multiple approvals, civil work, tenancy issues, CoW sites can be deployed fast to manage any sudden jumps in voice/data traffic.