September 28, 2021 12:30:48 am
The Department of Telecommunication (DoT) has admitted that the current operations of Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited (RJIL) within the 850-950 Megahertz (MHz) spectrum around Junnar taluka of Pune district in Maharashtra needs to be shifted out and re-allocated a higher frequency.
This decision comes in the wake of fresh findings, confirming signals generated by RJIL towers in this region’s periphery were creating significant interference in the smooth operations of the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT), the world’s largest radio telescope in low-radio frequency.
During the spectrum auction and allocation in 2016, the DoT had incorrectly awarded the 850-950 MHz spectrum to RJIL for its operations in Maharashtra, as first reported by The Indian Express on August 27, 2021. As this coincided with the frequency operations of the GMRT, the NCRA scientists first raised the matter with the ministry in early 2018.
With RJIL operations continuing in the region till date, the scientists complained that significant volumes of data gathered by the telescope in the frequency range close to the 850-950 MHz band turned corrupt, rendering them useless for scientific research work. Also, many of the research projects that could have used this part of the spectrum had to be curtailed due to this strong interference, thereby compromising the quality of the science results.
In 2019, GMRT underwent its first major upgrade and has now become a highly sensitive world-class facility. Today, it processes several terabytes of data per day and produces cutting-edge new results. Loss of a significant fraction of this data and results due to this interference is now becoming a major hurdle for the scientific community — both Indian and international — thereby threatening their planned projects using the upgraded GMRT.
AK Tiwari, Member (Technology), Digital Communications Commission (DCC) at DoT, confirmed with The Indian Express that his office had received the file mentioning the harmful effects of RJIL transmissions on the operations of GMRT some 20 days ago and the scientists were seeking the ministry’s urgent intervention in this matter.
“Previously, there were rounds of discussions with the authorities of GMRT and telecom operators in this regard. The case, which is already in process, has been referred to higher authorities for review. Technically, the DoT feels that the frequency allotted to RJIL should be shifted. Probably, we will shift the telecom operator to some higher frequency so that the cause of interference is removed,” said Tiwari.
Conceived in the early 1990s and operational since 2000, the GMRT — operated by TIFR’s National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA) — is a unique telescope facility that has been operating in Narayangaon, located 80 km north of Pune. As the telescope’s scientific operations involve tracking of the extremely weak and faint radio signals coming from the farthest quarters of our Universe, even a minute ‘noise’ created by mobile tower signals or similar radio signal emitting sources in the surroundings can harmfully distort the data received by GMRT. Since its inception, the GMRT — a facility owned by the Department of Atomic Energy — has a de facto protection from any sort of signal interference from its surroundings.
Technically, the DoT cannot make available any frequency matching that of the GMRT’s operations for auction, as long as the telescope is operational. This is an accepted norm globally, as these expensive scientific facilities are envisioned to operate for many decades outside areas of human-made interference. In fact, even the Air Traffic Control, Police Wireless services and other telecom operators functioning around Narayangaon have cooperated and complied with the GMRT’s special status.
Even after the ministry decides to award RJIL a higher frequency, the transition process will not be free of financial implications and spectrum re-allocation could take time.
“Every frequency auctioned comes at a certain cost. The price difference, if any, from the time of auction/allocation to the present re-allocation will have to be borne by the telecom operator,” another DoT official explained.
After the matter first came to light in 2018, RJIL had initiated some financial transactions with DoT in this regard, the ministry officials noted.
In the process of settling the cost difference in the spectrum pricing, the case will be first taken up with the Member Finance, DoT. Upon successful completion of required payment by RJIL, the DoT will initiate the process of spectrum re-allocation, the DoT officials said.
When contacted, RJIL refused to comment on this matter.
The DoT is yet to arrive at the final decision and the case is currently being considered by the office of Anshu Prakash, Chairman DCC and Secretary, (Technology). He was, however, unavailable for comment in the matter.
“Once everything is approved and thorough deliberations are complete, the frequencies will be swapped with some other band and the problem will be resolved. The GMRT is a prestigious scientific facility and must be given protection. I am hopeful that within two months, the matter should be resolved,” Tiwari said.
Frequent users of the GMRT and authorities who have been following up the matter with the DoT since 2018 said that further delay by the ministry in the issuance of a notification to RJIL with alternate spectrum would mean that even future data sets generated by the telescope will be rendered useless.
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