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Department of Telecommunications calls police to halt theft of network equipment.

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In Short:

The Department of Telecommunications has asked state police departments to crack down on theft of network gear causing losses of around Rs 800 crore for telcos. Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, and Vodafone Idea raised concerns. The theft is affecting 4G/5G expansion and mobile coverage quality. Telcos face additional costs due to stolen equipment. Online platforms are selling stolen gear. COAI called on government to take strict action.


Theft of Telecom Network Gear Prompting Government Action

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has issued a directive to its enforcement units to notify state police departments about the increasing theft of critical network gear. This theft has resulted in losses of around Rs 800 crore for telecom companies, disrupted 4G/5G expansions, and affected mobile coverage quality.

Directive Details

The directive, dated May 27, instructs field enforcement units in all license service areas (LSAs) to work with national law enforcement agencies and conduct quarterly reviews of telecom gear theft situations. The DoT also wants this matter to be discussed in upcoming state broadband committee meetings.

The decision comes after major telcos like Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, and Vodafone Idea raised concerns about significant losses and increased replenishment costs due to the rising incidents of network gear theft across India.

Industry Impact

Telcos have highlighted that theft incidents are more prominent in certain regions such as Delhi-NCR, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu. They estimate losses of approximately Rs 800 crore and additional expenses for replacing stolen equipment.

Furthermore, customers are experiencing a decline in mobile broadband service quality, and network expansions are being hampered. Technical and legal challenges hinder the recovery of stolen gear, necessitating stringent government action.

COAI’s Alert

In March 2024, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) informed the telecom secretary about foreign websites allegedly selling stolen telecom infrastructure gear online. Some of the websites, including eBay, Alibaba, Telefly, Seeker816, and Dorfatrade, were named in COAI’s letter as suspects in this illegal activity.

COAI emphasized the need for strict action against such offenses, considering them damaging to telecom infrastructure as per the Telecommunications Act, 2023.

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