New Delhi: After China rolled out a 5G network on its side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) to improve its communication and data networks, the Indian Army is going in for a 4G- and 5G-based mobile cellular network of its own to be used in mountainous terrain, at altitudes of up to 18,000 feet.
The Army has issued an open request for information (RFI) for this, seeking bids from companies to provide the technology to field formations posted in such terrain.
It’s envisaged that the network will provide reliable and secure voice, messaging and data services in the intended area of coverage, to support the operational requirements of the field formations.
The Army is looking at delivery of the network, including execution, within 12 months of a contract being signed.
One of the first construction activities the Chinese carried out, soon after tensions broke out between India and China in eastern Ladakh in 2020, was laying down fibre-optic cables on their side to ensure smooth communication links.
Since then, China has also rolled out a 5G network. According to defence sources, the Chinese have already introduced this along the LAC and are in the process of converting all their communication and surveillance systems to the same.
In its RFI, the Army has also made it clear that the solution shouldn’t be specific to any particular original equipment manufacturer (OEM) specifications, resulting in vendor lock-in, and must support global accepted standards.
The secrecy requirements include the ability of the system to be integrated with an encryption device as buyer-furnished equipment, for back haul secrecy of the network.
The Army has been facing mobile communication issues at forward locations in high altitude areas.
Sources in the defence and security establishment said that while a secure radio frequency is available along with satellite mode, a 4G and 5G network is the need of the hour as this will help faster communication and data transfer.
India likely to get 5G services by March 2023
Tuesday also marks the first major phase of the 5G rollout process in India.
Four corporate giants — Adani Enterprises, Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio, and Vi (formerly Vodafone Idea) — are bidding in the 5G auction that began earlier in the day. It is understood that the companies named above will be the ones responding to the Army’s request for information.
India is expected to get full-fledged 5G services by March 2023, Union communications minister Ashwini Vaishnaw had said at an event last month.
Residents in border areas of the country, especially in Ladakh — which has been seeing a tense stand-off between India and China over the last two years — have also been seeking better mobile communication, at least 4G.
In November last year, Councillor Konchok Stanzin, representing Chushul in the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Leh, had handed over a three-page letter with demands to defence minister Rajnath Singh, who was in the village to inaugurate the revamped Rezang La War Memorial.
Among other demands, Stanzin sought a 4G tower for each of the nine villages in Chushul, besides fibre-optic cables.
It was only in June this year that the 4G network was introduced in some forward parts of Ladakh.
Reliance Jio had expanded the reach of its 4G services in Ladakh region to a village close to Pangong lake, a friction point between India and China, by setting up a mobile tower at Spangmik village.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)