Is DoT’s Crackdown on Illegal Mobile Signal Boosters the Solution to Poor Network in India?

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In an official statement on Thursday, the Indian Department of Telecom spoke out against the country’s illegal mobile network boosters. The statement was by no means the first such document in GOI’s quest against signal boosters and it reinforced the government’s unfavorable view of signal boosters, especially urging e-commerce giants to stop listing them.

The statement came after the DoT conducted a 2-day drive on December 22 and 23 in various parts of South Mumbai to weed out any illegal signal boosters the officials could find. In total, they discovered and removed 68 such boosters from both, residential and commercial establishments in the coastal city.

Using Signal Boosters like Stealing Water from the Main Supply Line: DoT

According to Indian telecom laws, installing, possessing, and selling signal boosters is an illegal act that is punishable by law. Authorities believe mobile connectivity is a precious community resource which must be available to all in equal capacities.

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Licensed network providers buy spectrum from the government and make other infrastructural investments in order to offer the final product to consumers. Ideally, this is transmitted to all areas a transmission tower covers. However, a signal booster diverts a disproportionate amount of the signal to one particular area, much like stealing water from the main pipeline, DoT explains.

The government’s main reason behind discouraging such practices is the claim that signal boosters ruin overall network quality for everyone in the area. One signal booster creates a domino effect wherein others in the area are forced to resort to similar tactics due to the poorer overall network created by the diversion. Such adaptations build up and lead to a widespread decline in the quality of the network in the entire area.

e-Commerce Websites: an Unexpected Enabler

While India’s network problems cannot be explained away by a single reason, the DoT insists that part of the reason is the easy availability of these devices.

Although selling signal boosters is illegal, they are readily available on popular e-commerce websites like Flipkart and Amazon for as cheap as Rs. 1500.

The government has repeatedly asked e-retailers to unlist these items but to no avail. The statement says that online platforms have responded positively to requests of removing signal boosters but past patterns suggest otherwise.

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Another point of emphasis is the fact that a vast majority of these devices are “Chinese products”, a narrative which was seemingly caught on only in 2020 amidst hard and soft power conflicts with the bordering nation.

Outdated Infrastructure Needs to be Replaced

While availability is a contributing factor at best, the main cause boils down to the source: the infrastructure of the network providers themselves.

India’s digitization journey has been rapid owing to the fact that it’s a favorite among network providers due to its large population size and smartphone usage. The government has also been sufficiently keen on improving the country’s network prowess, and has become especially aggressive in the past few years.

This puts pressure on network providers to purchase advanced spectrum from the government whenever a network upgrade happens. However, despite these upgrades, a lot of the network providers are still using equipment and infrastructure better suited to older network generations.

Upgrades and improvements do happen, but not nearly as fast as they should. In a Times of India piece earlier this year, the struggles of the consumers were touched upon briefly, highlighting the everyday inconvenience which leads them to resort to such solutions. “We have to come out of our homes to receive calls. Yesterday, I suffered numerous call drops,” they were told by a resident.

Telecom department officials say the appropriate solution to such problems is filing complaints, however, grievance redressal isn’t as quick and efficient as it should be.

The DoT carried out similar raids in parts of Delhi early in November and has stated that they will continue to sniff out and remove as many signal boosters as they can.

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