India’s big telcos expect normalcy in mobile coverage to return only by the middle of this week in Odisha, which has borne the brunt of cyclonic storm Fani, especially as power supply disruptions continue to delay restoration of telecom services.
Mobile services though, are nearly normal in Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, where network damage caused by the cyclone was not as extensive.
Telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan conducted an emergency meeting with all telcos on Sunday to review the mobile services situation in the coastal states that were stung by the cyclone on Friday.
Vodafone Idea, Bharti AirtelNSE -2.55 % and RelianceNSE -2.99 % Jio Infocomm, which have set up war rooms to monitor networks and drive speedy restoration of telecom services, are facing tough times in dealing with network outages in the worst hit Puri-Bhubaneswar belt of Odisha amid continuing electricity supply disruptions.
“Telcos are working continuously to restore connectivity in areas impacted by cyclone Fani, but this also depends on the availability of power supply,” said Rajan Mathews, director general of Cellular Operators Association of India, which represents all phone companies.
A senior executive of a Big 3 telco backed the view, saying complete restoration of mobile services in Odisha can happen “only once there is uninterrupted power supply, which is not the case now in the Fani-impacted zones.” Without grid power support, he said, it won’t be immediately possible to energise even fully-functional towers and base stations.
Rapidly depleting fuel stocks coupled with paucity of diesel gensets at tower sites has further aggravated matters, which is why telcos are leaving no stone unturned to bulk up on fuel for operationalising mobile towers that are in running condition.
Mobile towers, typically, can function for up to 24 hours without power but then diesel for generators needs to be provided.
A Vodafone Idea spokesperson reiterated that the telecom market leader is doing its best to “ensure sufficient fuel supply to its sites across all (impacted) locations, and is also stocking up at strategic locations for use in times of emergency”.
In addition, the company has lined up extra mobile diesel gensets, critical equipment spares and vehicles at key locations that were the worst hit by cyclone Fani.
A senior Airtel executive said the country’s second-largest telco’s emergency teams had restored normal mobile coverage in Andhra Pradesh and expected to do the same in the impacted pockets of West Bengal by Sunday evening. But he conceded that normal mobile coverage was likely to return to the cyclone-hit regions of Odisha only in a couple of days as power supply remains cut off in several areas.
Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel and Jio are continuing with their free messaging services and intra-circle roaming (ICR) pacts between themselves to ensure their customers in the cyclone ravaged areas can connect with their loved ones. But mobile users in Odisha’s impacted areas are also facing problems in staying connected as they are unable to charge their cellphones and power banks amid continuing power supply disruptions.
At press time, Bharti Airtel and Jio did not reply to ET’s queries.
Earlier in the day, government sources indicated 932 base stations were made operational by Bharti Airtel, Voda Idea and Jio. State-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam’s Puri exchange, they said, was also operational. However, restoration of 206-odd base stations in West Bengal is still pending, they said.
Cyclonic storm Fani slammed into the Odisha coast Friday morning, packing heavy rain and gale force winds with speeds of up to 175 kmph. Nearly a million people were evacuated from sensitive zones in Odisha, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh.