Mumbai: The telecom regulator has recommended that the communication network used in emergency situations like maintenance of law and order, protection of life and property and disaster relief be upgraded to a nationwide broadband-based system to improve coordination and exchange of information.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India said the proposed next-generation Public Protection and Disaster Relief (PPDR) communication networks should be funded by the government and created in metros, border districts, disaster-prone areas and sensitive regions such as Jammu & Kashmir and the northeast.
Currently, relief agencies and emergency services rely on narrow-band digital trunking technology or old analogue systems, which are primarily meant for voice communication in the field. The current framework has resulted in fragmented spectrum assignments with inefficient use of precious and prime frequencies.
“Despite consuming large amounts of costly spectrum, it does not meet the evolving needs of the public safety and emergency communication such as access to instant messaging, high-quality images and video, mapping and location services, remote control of robots, and other applications,” Trai said while issuing the recommendations on Monday.
“Moreover, it has been observed that PPDR agencies have their individual networks in place, which work in silos. This results in inability to have seamless communication and information sharing among the PPDR agencies… (which) deprives the agencies of instant cross-agency coordination and exchange of mission-critical information which eventually results in ineffective mitigation of safety and disaster situation,” the regulator added.
Trai suggested that a special purpose vehicle (SPV) under the Ministry of Home Affairs be formed to plan, coordinate and steer implementation of the nationwide broadband PPDR communication network and its operation. The upgraded network would support a wider range of applications such as sending live images, videos and text, apart from voice communication.
The regulator had issued a consultation paper on this subject in October last year, raising specific issues for the consideration of stakeholders.
The regulator highlighted the importance of such a network because India is highly prone to natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, coastal cyclones and also man-made disasters like accidents and terrorist attacks.
A recent example was the 2017 Chennai floods during which the mobile phone networks in the metro were affected.
Using the latest technology will help in swifter decision-making, making it easier for people involved in relief operations to carry out their work, the regulator said.
The department of telecommunications will work with the SPV on the allocation of spectrum and other issues. TRAI suggested that the DoT work out timelines to phase out the analogue networks and make new spectrum assignments only for deploying digital equipment.
State-owned telecom firms BSNL and MTNL will carry out the pilot testing at five zones identified as disaster-prone or sensitive areas to evaluate the efficacy of the proposed network.
The regulator also recommended that stringent service-level agreements be put in place so that operators are mandated to provide mobile base transceiver stations and backpack devices in case a terrestrial network gets destroyed. This is to be done so that communication is still available to the PPDR agencies including police departments, fire departments, emergency medical professionals and para-military forces.
In such situations, the operators should set up and deploy a dedicated mobile communication system at the disaster site within a specified time period to restore communication. The operator should provide rapidly deployable solutions such as mobile base stations, wearable, backpack devices during disasters. This would be over and above the satellite backup network presently in place.