State-run BSNL may be asked to set up 3,000 more telecom towers on an urgent basis and enhance the satellite bandwidth in the Maoist-infested areas to improve communication among the security agencies operating there. The task of setting up nearly 2200 telecom towers in the first phase has been completed in a record time in all the seven Maoist-hit states of Bihar, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
A decision is likely to be taken this week after a probe into the recent Sukma strike that left 25 CRPF men dead in an ambush laid by the left-wing insurgents, official sources said. They said that in the phase-II, the BSNL will be asked to finish the setting up of another 3,000 telecom towers on an urgent basis in a bid to enhance the connectivity in the remote areas of these states.
After the Narendra Modi government took over in 2014, a prestigious plan of better telecom connectivity in Naxal-hit areas was given the top priority and the Cabinet Committee on Security had cleared a project of setting up 1836 new towers, besides refurbishing the 364 existing ones.
For the first time, nearly 1800 telecom towers were set up in the country based on solar power and its successful completion was appreciated by security agencies, especially National Security Advisor A K Doval who had sent a letter to the BSNL Chairman.
“The challenges were no less compounded by the difficult terrain, lack of accessibility and infrastructure facilities.
“…your (BSNL) efforts, and that of security forces in providing effective protection to the working parties, will go a long way in providing a semblance of security in the heartland areas which have long been under the grip of extremists,” the letter said.
However, after the Sukma incident on April 24 in which 25 CRPF men lost their lives, it was found that the communication facility in these areas was limited, the sources said and reasoned that this was because low bandwidth of 512 kilobytes per second (kbps) was provided between the towers. At this bandwidth, only 10-15 subscribes can be accommodated at a given point of time.
Post-Sukma, all the ministries were asked to give their comments on the developmental work in the Naxal-affected areas. Department of Telecom claimed that there was chronic incidence of one-way speeches and calls not maturing despite full signal being shown. It also pointed out that the telecom towers were not even receiving the allocated satellite bandwidth of 512 Kbps which resulted in high latency of speech and loss of audio fidelity.
According to the DoT officials, the current deployed network carries an average of 1.3 lakh Erlang voice traffic and some 175 GB of data daily. One erlang is the equivalent of one call which includes call attempts and holding time. A proposal to bring in 3G or 4G network may face a dead end as all the telecom towers were in rural areas while the two bandwidths required high power consumption, an official said and added that Wi-Fi hotspots could be provided at the same sites.
As many as 227 telecom towers in Andhra Pradesh, 184 in Bihar, 797 in Chattisgarh, 782 in Jharkhand, 253 in Odisha, 60 in Maharashtra and 22 in Madhya Pradesh are set up in remote locations and deep inside the naxal hot-beds.