Networks have moved to merge their airwaves and spectrum in accordance with the telecom department’s disaster guidelines, the Economic Times reports. This comes as cities go into shutdown around the country to brace for the COVID-19 pandemic. Airtel is leading the push to what’s called an Intra-Circle Arrangement, per the report, which would let users switch to other networks to get network access if one telco goes down in an area.
As most cities go into shutdown, telecom workers running networks are still expected to show up for work. ACT Broadband and Airtel wrote letters to customers assuring them that the companies were prepared for the contingency of quarantining their network centers if needed. Airtel said in its letter (download) that only a fifth of its employees were working on the field. Airtel and Jio have both scaled down customer support, requesting customers to use online resources instead. Vodafone–Idea said in a statement that it is closely monitoring health of employees still working.
Indian telecom operators have dealt with unprecedented surges in traffic before — whether after the hundreds of internet shutdowns when people rushed back to the internet, or during the entry of Reliance Jio, when the prices of mobile data changed overnight and led to practically every network being expected to serve many times the amount of data they were used to working with.
But this time may be different. Though telecom services are exempted from nationwide shutdowns being imposed amid this pandemic, networks do not run on their own. During the South India floods in 2015, telecom operators struggled to make sure that towers and exchanges had enough diesel to run their services. This time, the challenge is different, but just as immediate and real; what happens when an exchange needs to quarantine, or worse, shut shop? Telcos banding together is an insurance policy against that contingency.