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India’s $191 billion information technology (IT) services industry is struggling to provide uninterrupted services with a majority of workers working remotely, even as the country is gearing up for an extension of the lockdown.

Nearly two-thirds of the IT industry’s 4.36 million workforce has been working from home since the lockdown was imposed. This includes business process management and global capability centres. However, technology infrastructure and connectivity issues still pose a challenge.

India’s leading IT and software services body Nasscom has urged the department of telecommunications (DoT) and individual telcos such as Jio and Bharti Airtel to release additional spectrum to enable direct access to client networks. But the Cellular Operators Association of India has said no additional spectrum is required to maintain the stability and quality of networks.

“Telcos need to understand that Nasscom is not talking about routine call drops, but about back office operations that are dependent on voice-based processes," says Ashish Aggarwal, senior director and head, public policy, Nasscom.

4G cellular connectivity in its present form is not capable of supporting work-from-home (WFH) processes.

“A robust and reliable 4G network is needed to replicate operations seamlessly at home, especially now with the WFH period being extended," said Aggarwal.

These services run on two types of networks in India, one on broadband or fiber and the other on cellular networks such as the 4G network.

India is ranked at a low 126 on fixed-broadband subscriptions per individual (1.33 connections per 100 individuals) and less than one fourth of the towers are fibre connected, according to reports.

Therefore, employees are primarily dependent on mobile cellular subscription to connect to the internet. “However, the 4G quality of network is not good, the internet feed is patchy, and there are frequent call drops," said Aggarwal.

According to reports, the availability of network reportedly ranges from 76% to 97%, while the download speed ranges from less than 3mbps to less than 9mbps and the upload speeds are much lower.

The latency experience is also poor, said Aggarwal. In view of all this, Nasscom has written to DoT outlining suggestions to enhance network capability to enable uninterrupted internet connectivity so that employees of IT and IT-enabled services (IT-ITeS) companies can work from home.

One of the suggestions is improving the backhaul infrastructure. Mobile operators and internet service providers can make use of such spectrum as backhaul to connect mobile towers and it can also allow more companies to offer Wi-Fi services.

Curbing the use of bandwidth throttling (both broadband and hotspots), enabling more Wi-Fi hotspots by telecom service providers (TSPs) to increase internet penetration and co-ordinate with tier 1 and tier 3 service providers to collaborate to ensure last-mile connectivity are some other solutions that Nasscom said can address the network and bandwidth problems.

COAI is also re-evaluating its earlier stand. It agreed that traffic patterns have changed during the lockdown as the peak hour traffic during commute times is no longer there.

“However, the fact that towers were not allowed to be put up in residential areas during good times is coming back to haunt us. It is unlikely to be resolved in a matter of 15 days... Telecom companies are also monitoring the traffic pattern on a real-time basis and will re-configure their networks if and when the need arises," said Rajan S. Mathews, director general, COAI.

Leroy Leo contributed to this story

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