Tilak Raj Dua, Director General, TAIPA
Telecommunication services across the globe have emerged as a key driver of economic and social development in an increasingly knowledge intensive global scenario. India being the world’s second largest telecommunication market with more than 4.5 lakh towers extending seamless telecommunication services to more than 1.2 billion subscribers faces various security issues such as diesel pilferage from DG sets, cable cuts, battery larceny, and vandalism etc. This eventually impacts the overall connectivity, emergency services, public at large, and the Digital India mission.
As we all are aware, telecommunication services are essential services and need to be operational 24×7 at any given time. Hence, the mobile towers require uninterrupted power supply which is still a challenge in some parts of India with hinterlands and in far flung geographical locations. Over and above, in order to maintain 99.95 percent up time for mobile towers which is the license requirement for service providers an alternate source of energy supply is required; diesel can be used for this purpose, and needs to be kept in readiness by compulsion, not by choice.
Diesel pilferage and diesel theft are a big menace being faced for a very long time. As per a 2014 report, 2 billion liters of diesel was procured by telecommunication industry out of which diesel worth around 2200 crore was pilfered annually and this continues unabated; however, the industry has been converting/rolling out other energy storage solutions.
On the other hand, in order to curb the issue and industry committed to develop a green sustainable telecommunication ecosystem, the Indian telecommunication tower sector with evolved energy generation solutions such as RETs, RESCO model, conversion of sites from indoor to outdoor, sites with energy efficient storage solutions, solar power panels, fuel cells and FCUs etc. have been investing heavily on the transit of the whole ecosystem. This will indeed help in reducing carbon emission and transforming lives. As a result the industry has deployed more than 1 lakh diesel-free mobile sites.
However, despite all serious efforts the diesel procurement has not reduced comparatively and the sector faces a huge monetary hit. It is worth highlighting that these malpractices of diesel pilferage/theft have continued unabated.
Another issue in the safety of critical infrastructure is battery larceny. Recently, there are numerous instances reported regarding the theft of mobile tower batteries. This impacts the mobile towers’ connectivity.
Such instances not only bring monetary damages to the infrastructure companies but also give rise to network issues resulting in call drops, connectivity issues, and quality of service (QoS) issues, etc. ultimately, impacting the public at large.
Due to the strict Quality of Service (QoS) norm of delivering 99.95 percent network uptime, these connectivity issues also impose heavy penalties on telecom operators.
Vandalism of mobile towers is also a big issue. Blowing up/damaging mobile towers in order to disconnect mobile telecommunication services is a common practice in some areas. This is done with the motive of breaking down all the communication channels with the outside world and most importantly to minimize the reach of the Indian government.
Though, recently, the Indian government alongwith a state-run telecom firm has completed installation of 2199 mobile towers in naxal-affected regions across 10 states, as part of efforts to strengthen the security mechanism to combat insurgency in those areas. However, the security of mobile towers in such geographical locations still remains a challenge as antisocial elements can damage these critical infrastructures at any point of time.
To mitigate the risk of damage to these assets government should make provisions such as extension of essential service status, necessary directives to the security authorities, specific guidelines by states, and heavy penalties for culprits etc.