Press Coverage

Lost over Location

Mobile operators?????? resist implementing Location Based Service but are they right in doing so?

Telecom companies in the country, known for their innovative business models and out of the box thinking, cringe when it comes to implementing any major changes initiated by the Government.
They fought hard to delay the introduction of Mobile Number Portability by several years, they did not want the Calling Party Pays, which made incoming calls free; they have successfully pushed back the idea of allowing unrestricted Net telephony until now and the latest defiance on implementing the Location Based Services (LBS) adds to the list. The basic argument used to thwart these schemes has always been the same - that implementing them would cost a bomb and would lead to major losses for the telecom companies. Take the latest case of Location Based Services where the Department of Telecom (DoT) had ordered all mobile operators to put in place the system by May 31. The operators went about doing trials and pilots just to satisfy the Government but just one day before the set deadline they informed DoT that they cannot implement it.

The operators have raised multiple issues, including costs and technical feasibility of achieving the requirements specified by the Department of Telecom. LBS was made mandatory by the DoT at the behest of security agencies. This technology will allow law enforcement agencies to pin point the location of a mobile user. According to the order issued by the DoT, operators are supposed to build capability that would show the location of a subscriber with an accuracy of 50 metres. According to mobile companies, it would cost over $5 billion to implement this technology. In addition, they say that the technology does not allow achieving the accuracy levels required by DoT. They have even told the Government that they should be compensated for bearing the cost. But how true are these claims?

Technology vendors claim the operators are peddling half-baked truth both in terms of cost and technology. Polaris Wireless, one of the vendors of LBS technology, has written to the DoT that it can achieve the accuracy levels. Another technology firm, UK-based Creativity Software, has also been able to demonstrate its complying with accuracy of location requirements.

According to the vendors, LBS solution is possible to be set up for an initial investment of less than a billion dollars by all operators put together for their pan India network.

But mobile operators are not convinced. They claim that the trials run by the technology vendors work under certain parameters which may not be achievable across the country. Technically LBS uses a triangulation method based on mobile towers to pin point the location of a user. Operators reckon that there are areas where the number of towers is less and it will be difficult to achieve the accuracy levels set by the Government. Their fear is that if they are unable to provide the location of a subscriber to the security agencies after implementing the system, they will be forced to pay a penalty.

Vendors on the other hand say that they have developed a technology whereby they can pin point the location of a user even in areas where the tower density is low. They have even offered to sign service level agreement with the operators guaranteeing that the accuracy levels will be met according to the parameters set by the Government. Some of the vendors have gone a step ahead and have told the operators that in case its system does not meet the set criteria at any time, it is willing to pay a penalty equivalent to the amount given by the operator to set up the system. Operators are not buying it. They have told the Government that they will need more time to decide. Insiders say that operators are using the argument of high cost and technology as a bogey. In reality they do not want to implement the system because there is no commercial benefit to them. Operators see LBS as a security tool and hence want the Government to bear the cost. While telecom companies in other countries have tried using LBS to generate revenues too, they have not been very successful. For instance, some operators in the US have a service where subscribers get discount coupons if they are near a particular store. But since this type of service is also available now on free platforms like Google, operators are cagey about investing a billion dollars for a system whose only purpose is security monitoring