NEW DELHI: With India staring at weeks of lockdown to curb the spread of novel coronavirus infection, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has written to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) urging it to provide more spectrum, for the time being, for maintaining telecom services.

“In the US, FCC (Federal Communications Commission) has allocated additional spectrum to the TSP to ensure continuity of broadband service. Accordingly, in India also equal amount of additional spectrum in 1800 MHz band should be allocated to all the TSPs for the short term, to augment capacity," COAI director general Rajan S. Mathews said in a 20 March letter to DoT secretary Anshu Prakash. A copy of the letter was seen by Mint.

Mathews added that the additional spectrum should be allocated to all telecom players—Reliance Jio Infocomm, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd—equally or to no one at all.

The request comes as there has been an approximately 20% increase in internet traffic on wireless network, which is likely to rise in the coming days as India gears up for a three-week lockdown to curb the spread of the fatal respiratory pandemic called COVID-19.

As almost everybody, excluding people providing essential services, will be working from home, there is likely to be a surge in internet traffic. This will be in addition to the increase in use of video streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

Streaming services like Amazon Prime Video, Zee5 and AltBalaji had already started working on reducing the pressure on cellular networks after the COAI in a letter to these companies requested for reduction in streaming quality to standard-definition from high-definition.

Considering India’s unusually high dependence on wireless traffic, this is expected to put pressure on cellular infrastructure, an official from the telecom operators’ association said, requesting anonymity.

COAI has also requested the government to relax norms on rolling out services in licensed service areas to six months from the current three, while extending timelines for telecom firms providing bank guarantees to the DoT.

Mathews has urged the government to instruct states to expedite permissions for setting up towers so as to increase capacity, and asking state-owned firms MTNL and BSNL to not terminate points of interconnect.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced a three-week complete lockdown of the country in a bid to curb the spread of the infection. Over the last three weeks, the total number of infections soared from four to more than 500.

As of Wednesday morning, the Union health ministry had confirmed 562 cases, with nine deaths and 41 in recovery.

(Lata Jha contributed to the story)

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