Given all the other problems the Indian mobile communications sector has, delays to permissions for installing mobile infrastructure are probably less than welcome, but that is the issue that is now being highlighted by Indian media.
It seems that there has been a technical problem in the Indian Department of Telecommunications’ (DoT) online clearance system for setting up of mobile infrastructure. If this isn’t overcome fairly quickly, reports suggest, it could delay installation of around 50,000 towers and base stations for several months.
The backlog, now being processed manually, has apparently reached over 100,000 applications. Not surprisingly, restrictions on movement of personnel due to the recent lockdown in response to the coronavirus epidemic have meant that there is limited DoT staff availability, further exacerbating the problem. Ironically, the same lockdown is causing most carriers to try to boost network capacities to meet a surge in data demand.
Approvals are necessary because tower sites and base stations could otherwise be installed in restricted zones near airports or cause radio interference. Thus, 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 DoT’s Wireless Planning Cell (WPC), the Airports Authority of India and the Joint Communications & Electronic Staff in the defence ministry have representatives on the approval panel.
It’s still not clear precisely what caused the sudden move of the approval process from online to manual but, with no let-up in demand, operators have urged the DoT to speed up the clearance process to 30 days, from about 90 now, to hasten network deployment.