Telecom Commission to soon clear Rs 7,103-crore project for mobile connectivity in border areas

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Telecom Commission, the highest decision making wing in the communications ministry, will soon clear a Rs 7,103-crore rollout of greenfield 2G networks in regions close to the Chinese and Bangladesh borders that remain outside the mobile loop, a top official in the department told ET.

Some 8621 villages in locations of strategic importance across the northeast are proposed to be brought under the cellular loop for the first time to bolster mobile-based surveillance on national security grounds.

Universal Services Obligation Fund (USOF), which will fund the project, will shortly invite bids from telcos for rolling out nearly 6,700 base stations in these regions. The USOF is the DoT’s rural network infrastructure financing arm. But it remains to be seen whether USOF will tweak tender norms to ensure any future cost escalations triggered by India’s spectrum refarming policy are shouldered by telecom operators.

For instance, a mobile operator tasked with rolling out 2G networks in the Northeast could face higher deployment costs if it fails to retain its 900 MHz spectrum and is compelled to buy airwaves in the less efficient 1800 MHz band and launch services in uncovered villages within the circle. The USOF is noncommittal at this point. “Tendering norms will be finalised only after the project is approved by the Telecom Commission and the Cabinet,” said a top official responsible for managing the USOF.

India’s decision to refarm spectrum mandates incumbent GSM operators to relinquish their efficient spectrum in the 900 MHz band during upcoming licence renewals starting late 2014 and buy them back through auctions, or shift to another band of airwaves.

The Rs 7,103 crore projection has been made by Telecom Consultants India Ltd (TCIL), which was tasked by USOF to prepare a detailed project report on extending mobile coverage to these far flung, inhospitable corners. The decision to engage TCIL was in response to sector regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s call for a comprehensive revamp of mobile infrastructure across the strategically located northeastern states

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