The Department of Telecom (DoT) has once again asked all telecom operators to install Location Based Servers (LBS) at the earliest to aid location based tracking of calls up to 50 meters in real time, The Hindu reports. After all the telecom companies failed to meet the deadline for installing LBS last year owing to the high cost of installation, the DoT has pushed again, saying that action will be taken against the operators LBS servers are not installed at the earliest.

From what we know, the issue of installing Location Based Servers by telecom operators has been on the radar since 26th October 2009; Medianama has been tracking this issue since April 2010. In response to a RTI filed with the DoT, Medianama had received copies of the notices issued by the DoT to the telecom operators along with Bharati Airtel’s response to the notice expressing concern over the high cost of installation (Rs. 4500 crores) and consumer privacy issues.

The mandate requiring the 50 meters accuracy was further revised by the government. Milind Deora, the Minister of State in the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology made an announcement last year in the Lokh Sabha regarding the revised location accuracy percentage and distance for which the telecoms have to maintain location details of its mobile customers.

High Cost to the telecom operators

Since the installation could cost close to $5 billion to the Indian telecom operators, COAI had last year suggested that the Indian government should bear the cost of installation. They had also claimed that it was not possible to implement the technical standards requested by DoT. However, DoT has now clarified that the Telecommunication Engineering Centre has looked into the implementation of the required standards and given the green signal to implement LBS by the telecom operators.

Issue of privacy

While cost is definitely a major concern, the privacy of citizens at stake cannot be ignored. Sanction to implement LBS without a proper legislation in place to protect the privacy of citizens, could easily lead to misuse of such a potent technology.  Although, Bharati Airtel had raised concern over the issue of consumer privacy, the department has so far not responded to this particular concern.

In fact, the Home Ministry’s Communications Monitoring Tender had clear indications of  that location based monitoring would be important. However, if LBS is implemented without a legal sanction to protect privacy, there are chances that the issue may not be raised with the concerned authority until it is too late.  Nevertheless, the government definitely seems a little too insistent on getting the LBS implemented this time around with/without tackling all the issues raised by the telecom operators.

On the bright side

Location Based Servers could lead to the launch of location based services by the different telecom providers opening doors to more customised services for the customers. Recently MapMyIndia launched its Mapple Safe World, its emergency response enterprise solutions division, which will offer maps based solutions to Indian government agencies and private sector companies. Similarly, Reliance has also entered into an industry partnership with Siemens to homeland security technology. These moves by industry players is likely indicator of the potential for growth in this sector.