Keeping in mind the ongoing call drop challenge being faced by a number of telecom operators in India, leading telecom companies led by their CEOs and heads of industry associations COAI, AUSPI, and TAIPA, jointly opined on the need for uniform guidelines for Cell Sites and Right of Way (RoW) across the telecom circles in India, in order to have more efficient networks and facilitate seamless connectivity to the citizens.
Speaking on the issue of addressing the call drop challenge, Himanshu Kapania, Chairman of the Cellulars Operators Association and MD and CEO of Idea Cellular, one of the biggest telecom operators in India – said that the government must create a uniform policy on telecom towers that can be implemented across the nation. “Once we have a uniform policy on telecom towers, the issue of call drops can be addressed aptly,” he added.
The industry reaffirmed its commitment to realize the Government’s vision of Digital India, but requested support towards addressing the challenges the industry is facing in setting up mobile infrastructure, a prerequisite for a digitally empowered society and a knowledge economy.
Mobile networks in cities like Chandigarh, Delhi NCR, Jaipur, Bhopal, Patna, Kolkata, Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai and North-East are being impacted by limited and restricted network and infrastructure presence. Roadblocks in installation of cell sites and arbitrary shutting down of operational ones is leading to network congestion and spotty coverage, further resulting in inconvenience for the customers.
Challenges in setting up Mobile infrastructure
• Restrictions imposed by State Governments and Municipalities
• Issues pertaining to Right of Way (RoW)
• State bodies actions against towers-disconnecting electricity supplies, sealing premises, dismantling of tower sites, without any prior notices
• Shortage of Spectrum amid surging data traffic growth
• Frequent fibre cuts due to infrastructure projects
• Site outages due to long power failures
• Owner/legal issues
• Interference due to illegal wide band radio
Challenges faced by the Industry:
The industry cited several challenges faced in installing mobile infrastructure due to reasons varying from State bodies’ actions against towers without prior notices; restrictions imposed by Municipalities coupled with sealing orders being issued; power supply issues; difficulties in getting clearances for installing sites; non-renewal of lease due to reasons such as EMF related misconceptions; fibre cuts due to other infrastructure projects, besides others.
In fact, over 10,000 cell sites have been made non-operational due to some of these reasons, across major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chandigarh, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Patna, Jaipur, etc. This is in stark contrast to the requirements of the industry for enabling a digital economy, wherein at least 1,00,000 Cell Sites need to be put up in the next couple of years.
Industry captains jointly echoed the sentiment that these operational challenges coexist in an environment of shortage of spectrum at a time when data traffic growth is surging and is only adding to the woes of the industry and more importantly the customers. Indian mobile operators’ spectrum holding per subscriber is as low as up to 1/4th that of the Chinese players.
Steps taken by the Industry to enhance coverage and Quality of Service:
The telecom industry has invested approx. INR 750,000 crores in the last 20 years to provide seamless connectivity to over 950 million mobile users. Over INR 1,09,000 crores have been committed in the spectrum auction held in March 2015 itself. In 2014-15 alone, the industry committed INR 1,34,000 crore+ towards development of networks.
Additionally, INR 24,000 crores has been spent by the incumbent operators on capital equipment in 2014-15. The investment has ensured improvement in network coverage and capacity enhancement.
Industry players have been consistently working towards network optimization and rolling out of 3G & 4G network.
Support Required from the Government
• Implementation of DoT guidelines for installation of Cell-sites across all states
• The guidelines should be statutorily backed • Single-window, time-bound clearance for installation of cell-sites
• 24/7 Power to the cell-sites
• Installation of Cell-sites and in building solution (IBS) on government buildings
• Installation of Cell-sites on Defense land
• Right of Way for fibre
• Spectrum harmonization and availability of increased quantum.
The industry has also been engaging with various State Governments and local bodies on alignment of state policies with the DoT’s Advisory on telecom infrastructure installation. Meetings with various Municipal corporations and other state departments are also being organized regularly, across the country, to raise awareness on the prevalent myths related to EMF and educate various stakeholders to address their concerns.
The Telecom Industry jointly urges the State governments and other relevant bodies to help implement DoT’s tower guidelines in all Indian states, and draft guidelines against any possible coercive action on cell sites without the consent of State TERM cells.
Further, issues paying a nominal one-time administrative fee to recover administrative expenses, granting all requisite permissions, time-bound Single Window Clearance of applications and priority of provision of electricity connection to cell sites, will go a long way in building a more robust and efficient telecom infrastructure in the nation.
Industry also seeks expedited steps towards international spectrum harmonisation and availability of increased quantum of spectrum. Also, interference from illegal wideband radios – intra-country and cross border, need to be removed.
The industry welcomes the central government’s efforts such as issuance of advisory guidelines to state governments and municipal corporations on installation of cell sites, inter-ministerial coordination to ensure smoother approval processes, to support the industry. In fact, very recently, Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Hon’ble Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Government of India, stated in the Rajya Sabha that in a meeting with the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD), it has been in-principle agreed that MoUD shall permit installation of mobile towers/in-building solutions in government buildings. The industry is hopeful that these will be implemented soon. His assurance in the Rajya Sabha on the efficacy of the EMF safety norms issued by the Govt. of India is also most welcome in assuring citizens.
Mobile infrastructure is an essential part of the mobility services ecosystem and constraining its expansion and development will impact quality of services and customer inconvenience. The industry is committed to the growth of mobile services in India and has been working towards achieving the Prime Minister’s vision of Digital India.