City’s poor cellular services due to lack of space, inadequate towers
Despite several initiatives by the Centre to boost cellular connectivity in northeast with focus on Guwahati, the city still lacks seamless network coverage, users complained.
According to the minister for information technology, government of Assam, Keshab Mahanta, about 67 per cent of the state’s urban areas and about 50 per cent of the state’s rural areas have network coverage. The leading cellular network providers such as BSNL, Airtel and Vodafone, however, claim that they have 100 percent coverage in the city.
“The network providers claim total coverage in the city, but we tend to lose network at several pockets and the hilly areas. Just providing network will not serve the purpose. Business establishments need high speed internet network to operate,” Raktim Das, a city-based entrepreneur said.
Call drops, slower internet and network congestions too continue to be common problems plaguing the city.
Vodafone often has total data blackouts that last from 20 minutes to as long as 2 hours in several areas. “From 4.30 pm, I failed to receive network till 6 pm a few days back. I then had to go to work but the network was still very weak,” Hiteshwar Ramchiary, a resident of Noonmati, said. Navina Laishram, a resident of Hatigaon, added, “The Airtel network often fluctuates and it becomes difficult to operate on internet.”
The central government has laid out several plans to provide total coverage to the entire northeast by 2020 and has earmarked an investment of Rs 1,500 crores for this region. The projects include data coverage in gram panchayats through Bharat Net, the Phase II of which was launched this week and a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the BSNL for laying optic fibres. The centre has also planned to lay cellular towers along the national highways.
The network providers have complained that it is the lack of cellular towers for which they cannot provide seamless network in the city.
Lack of towers hurt mobile services
Several cellular network providers in the city lack proper infrastructure to provide 3G and 4G services.
Bharti Airtel, the country’s largest private cellular network provider, is short of around 100 towers or cell sites than the current requirement in the city, said an employee of the Airtel northeast sector, on condition of anonymity.
“We have 280 cell sites comprising our own and shared towers. We however require 100 more to provide hassle-free network throughout the city,” he added.
Vodafone, another cellular network provider, does not have its own 3G towers. “We have around 302 cell sites in the city, most of which are shared with other providers. However, we don't have any cell site for providing 4G services here,” said Gaurav Singh, an official of Vodafone, Assam.
On the bad network, the Airtel spokesperson who declined to give his name, said, “The owners of the places where we have our towers do not allow us to install extra hardware to upgrade them. However, Airtel has been upgrading the cell sites through a software update.”
Director General of Cellular Operators Association of India, Rajan Mathews, said, “The Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) did not give the service providers licence to install new towers. The authorities even instructed us to remove several towers. We can upgrade the existing towers but there is still a need for installing more towers.”
No space for mobile towers
Mobile service providers are facing a space crunch to install cellular towers in the city.
“The Guwahati master plan has left only 16.3 per cent area to install mobile phone towers. This restricts tower installation to just a few areas of the city. Hence, it is not possible for mobile operators to provide good connectivity to the entire city,” Rajan Mathews, the Director General of the Cellular Operators Association of India, told G Plus.
Sazzad Alam, the development officer of Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA), which prepared the draft master plan, said, “As radiation levels are a factor while installing cellular towers and it falls in the wireless transmitting category, only the public and semi-public, composite use-I and composite use-II zones have been allotted for the purpose.” (See box for Guwahati master plan 2025 details)
The district telecom committee - headed by Deputy Commissioner of Kamrup (Metro) Dr M Angamuthu - has been unable to process requests from several operators because of the shortage of space.
“There are several new tower installation requests pending with our committee and more than 200 other requests to regularise the existing towers. Based on public grievances, we had to cancel licences of more than 70 existing towers,” said Sharmistha Bora, extra assistant commissioner, Kamrup (Metro).
The committee requires a clearance from the Disaster Management Department, GMDA, GMC, Fire & Emergency Services and Pollution Control Board to clear proposals for construction of cellular towers in the city. “Though a new applicant gets clearance from most of the departments, they mostly fail to get it from the GMDA because of lack of space. Moreover, the existing towers also fall in the zones where the master plan does not permit them to be installed and hence those have to be relocated,” she said.