A technical glitch in the telecom department’s online clearance system for setting up of mobile infrastructure could push back installation of some 50,000 towers and base stations by several months if not rectified soon.
Industry executives said the glitch has led to a backlog of over 100,000 applications as the clearances are now being processed manually. Staff availability issues because of back-to-back lockdowns have compounded the problem.
This comes at a time when carriers are trying to boost network capacities to meet a surge in data demand as millions working from home amid the coronavirus crisis.
Telecom operators need approval from the standing advisory committee on radio frequency allocation (SACFA) on the height and location of towers and base stations they plan to install.
The Department of Telecommunications’ (DoT’s) wireless planning cell (WPC), the Airports Authority of India and the Joint Communications & Electronic Staff in the defence ministry have representatives in the panel. The approval is a must to ensure tower sites and base stations don’t fall in restricted zones near airports and don’t cause any radio interference.
“The sudden move (in the SACFA approval process) from online to manual mode due to unforeseen events on the WPC website has led to a backlog in approvals for applications submitted, and the manual process has become more difficult due to the COVID-19 outbreak,” Rajan Mathews, director general of Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) said.
The manual approvals process, he said, has been hobbled by the restriction on movement of personnel due to the lockdown.
The COAI represents Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea. Email queries sent to these companies remained unanswered till as of press time.
Mathews, though, said that COAI has discussed the issue with DoT, which in turn has put in “substantial efforts” to resolve the matter quickly.
Brokerage CLSA had recently said that overall data traffic has increased by nearly 25% after the Covid19-induced lockdowns, with majority of corporate staff working from home.
In the face of this increased demand, telcos have urged DoT to speed up the clearance process to 30 days, from about 90 now, to hasten network deployment. They have also recommended escalation mechanisms if SACFA nod timelines are not met.