Digital India

We need 800,000 public WiFi hotspots: Tilak Raj Dua, TAIPA

By Sanjeeb Kumar Sahoo

Tilak Raj Dua, Director General of TAIPA with almost four decades of varied experience in the telecom sector ranging from manufacturing, to product development to regulatory behind him is currently focused on contributing to policy issues and representing the industry in various fora. In a recent interview with Voice&Data, Dua elaborates on call drops, key industry issues and the need for public Wi-Fi hotspots in India. Excerpts:

Voice&Data: What steps TAIPA ( Tower and Infrastructure Providers Association) is taking regarding call drop issues in India? Please elaborate.

Tilak Raj Dua: One of the reasons for call drop is unavailability of new sites for installation mobile towers in a region due to several restrictive conditions placed by the authorities. Inadequate number and location of cell sites leads to customer inconvenience and call drops.

Shutting down of operational cell sites lead to serious connectivity issues for the customers that results in coverage gaps, call drops, network congestion, poor QoS, increase in the overall cost and complexity of telecom network. Also, installations of roof-top towers in the residential as well as critical business district areas is a huge challenge due to public outcry on alleged EMF issues by vested interests including neighbours, etc.

Further, there are issues related to EMF from BTSs mounted on telecom towers that often arises from misplaced public perception. The RWAs, etc currently restrict tower installations in the residential areas due to perceived health hazard issues from EMF radiations which is contrary to the research findings of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Industry has taken several steps and installed no. of BTS. The status of BTS has gone from 1,157,649 BTSs in March 2016 to 1,345,470 BTSs in October 2016. Other key initiatives include:

  • Sharing Mobile Network Infrastructure has emerged as a key trend
  • Deployment of DAS/IBS and Low Power BTS
  • Innovation in Tower deployment such as use of Fiber Reinforced Polymer (FRP) telecom towers & portable masts/towers
  • Engagement with various State Governments on alignment of state policies with DoT Advisory Guidelines
  • Awareness workshop with citizen groups, RWAs, Doctors, Academia and Govt.
  • Responding to Public Concerns
  • Enablers of Government’s Digital India Vision

Voice&Data: What are the key industry issues at this point of time?

Tilak Raj Dua: A few key industry issues that needs to be addressed including locational restrictions, multiplicity of policies, shutting down/sealing/demolition of operational sites, alleged fear of EMF emissions from BTSs mounted on mobile towers, and retrospective implementation of tower installation policies within a state etc. The government has recently notified the Indian telegraph right of way rules 2016 which have features such as time bound clearances, reasonable one time administrative fees, and deemed approvals etc. It is expected that the rules will address issues related to call drops and coverage gaps.

Voice&Data: What does In Building solution means, and how it is useful?

Tilak Raj Dua: In Building Solutions (IBS) provides extended voice and data services enhancing its quality in places where it is needed the most such as inside buildings, tunnels, basements and restaurants etc. IBS facilitates in-building coverage by augmenting the mobile coverage while maintaining the standard cell size installed in any premises. By offloading traffic from macro cell networks, IBS improves quality of service and has the following significant benefits

  • Enhanced coverage
  • Improved Quality of Service
  • Less cell – interference
  • Ensures adequate signal strength
  • Limitscall drops

Looking at the current consumer trends and practices, deployment of IBS is the need of the hour to facilitate better quality services to the consumers. Further, there are issues related to the installation telecom infrastructure such as high rent charges by the building owners, availability of ducts/spaces in existing buildings, availability of sites and sharing of the infrastructure, etc. The solution lies in providing telecommunication infrastructure, which can be shared by all TSPs on a non-discriminatory and transparent basis.

In this regards, IPs are best suited to lay telecommunication infrastructure including the In-building solutions as they share their infrastructure with all TSPs on a fair, non-discriminatory, transparent manner and above all at most competitive rates.

Voice&Data: What is your view about Public Wi-Fi, please elaborate? What role can infra providers play here? What are the specific challenges related to public WiFi?

Tilak Raj Dua: Broadband penetration is abysmally low in our country when compared to other countries in the Asia Pacific region. In order to have a digitally empowered society, and a knowledge economy, there is a need to accelerate broadband penetration in the country. Public Wi-Fi can play a pivotal role in proliferation of broadband services. Recently, a TRAI consultation paper on Public Wi-Fi brought out that India has only 31,518 public Wi-Fi hotspots as compared to over 47 million hotspots globally and to have one hotspot for every 150 people, we need 800,000 hotspots. Thus, to bridge the digital divide, public Wi-Fi is a critical element to step-up the level of broadband connectivity in the country.

Further, to realize the vision of a ‘Digital India’, it is important that public Wi-Fi spots are installed to connect the unconnected. Proliferation of Wi-Fi services across plays a critical role in enabling access to internet to the farthest corner of a country.

To achieve the global benchmarks, Infrastructure Providers (IP-1s) should be encouraged to install common Wi- Fi infrastructure to host multiple service providers on a same network. A common infrastructure which can be shared amongst multiple operators will also lead to saving in capex and avoid duplication of networks.

Voice&Data: How green is the tower industry currently? What are metrics and the milestones there?

Tilak Raj Dua: Telecom towers need to be operational 24×7 to provide uninterrupted quality service to the consumers, whereas electricity grid currently barely meets energy needs of telecom towers. Therefore, to address the energy deficit the tower cost are forced to resort to other sources. Diesel to power the telecom towers via DG sets is used as the last resort as diesel itself is expensive with high costs for movement as well as storage that brings with it issues of safety and misuse.

The telecom industry is continuously working towards implementing new technologies in order to avoid its dependence on diesel and create a positive impact on environment. The industry has taken several suo motu initiatives such as:

  • Deployment of renewable energy solutions at cell sites to power the site using renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, etc.
  • Conversion of indoor BTS to outdoor BTS
  • Use of efficient battery banks
  • Free cooling units
  • Upgrading sites to low energy consumption BTS
  • Variable load DG sets
  • Diesel free sites, i.e., sites which consumes approx. 1 litres of diesel a day (nearly ~ 89,000 diesel free sites have been deployed)

Further, for your information mobile towers are among the sectors that consume the least amount of diesel (1.54% out of all 12 identified sectors; source: PPAC – Neilson Study 2013), for example if one compares the sectors, transport, railways, etc. are the sectors that consumes the major portion of diesel. The industry is committed towards bettering the environment and is dedicated to implement and explore new solutions to reduce carbon emissions as mentioned above.

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