Indian Building Bylaws Need To Change For Better Network Connectivity Indoors

Indian Building Bylaws Need To Change For Better Network Connectivity Indoors

By Ruben Banerjee

Come to think of it, running around the house to get a better mobile signal has virtually become a standard operating process for many of us. There are spaces in the house – be it the drawing room or the dining room – from where having a phone conversation or connecting to the internet is impossible. To ensure there is stronger signal and better connectivity, we must endlessly scamper around from one corner of a balcony to the far end of the terrace to secure better connectivity, and consequently, seamless online services.

That accessing the internet – in homes or offices – is often a challenge remains a fact of life that we still are ironically forced to put up with even in what we consider to be an advanced internet age. With 900 million internet users, India already has the second largest user base in the world. More are taking to the internet and their number is likely to hit one billion even before 2025. Post Covid, the phenomenon has accelerated with Indians embracing digital connectivity as never before.

The advances made on this count are exemplary. Data traffic growth stands at 26 GB per smartphone and is likely to surpass 62 GB per smartphone by 2028. Besides being the second-largest market for telecom, the country leads the world in per capita data usage, which currently stands at an impressive 19.5 GB per month. With ICT (Information and Communication Technology) being a key economic driver, gross revenue of the telecom sector in India stands at a whopping $38 billion. Powered by the transformative changes underway, digital services are also poised to grow their Indian GDP from 355 to 435 billion by 2025.

Digital boom vs quality

The numbers showcasing the digital boom are impressive. But can the same be said about the quality of digital services?While 80 per cent of data traffic is consumed indoors – a figure that is likely to top 95 per cent soon – the quality of online services inside buildings remains suboptimal. User experiences are not very sweet either with most consumers compelled to chase better signals.

Why quality indoors continue to pose a challenge is not difficult to understand. Contributing some 6-7 per cent of India’s total GDP, the real-estate sector is continuing to construct new structures. The buildings have modern amenities and aim to address our needs from water and electricity to fire safety safeguards. But what about digital infrastructure?

Digital infrastructure in real estate – or the absence of it – is where India has been slipping up. The new buildings that we live in or work from come complete with certificates – for water, electricity, and fire safety. The authorities do not certify them to be fit for use unless those criterions have been met and complied with.

However, India’s building laws – the National Building Code (NBC) – do not mandate telecom infrastructure as an essential ingredient before a building can be declared habitable. Though accessing digital services these days is as necessary as water and electricity, it still has not been accorded the same importance as it ought to be. The upshot of this glaring omission is poor services inside buildings and the maze of wires that dangle around houses and offices. The crisscrossing wires are a safety hazard – they at times trigger blazes – and stand out as sore reminders that telecom infrastructure indoors is yet to receive the attention it deserves.

This needs to change, and change urgently.

Hong Kong and Singapore could serve as role models for India to follow. In Hong Kong, a code of practice exists for providing access facilities inside buildings for supply of telecom and broadcasting services in consultation with telecom service providers (TSPs) and building owners. In Singapore, telecom ducts inside buildings are mandated under law.

Indian building rules and regulations too must have similar provisions, adding telecom infrastructure alongside water, electricity, and fire safety as a key requirement for the issuance of building completion certificates. Even the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has strongly recommended a revision in the building by-laws for the inclusion of telecom ducts and optical fibres for any building to receive the mandatory completion certificate. While recommending that ‘digital connectivity infrastructure’ be treated on par with other utilities, the Trai had recommended amendments to the building by-laws and an upgradation of all existing government buildings.

The authority had also suggested that the Department of Telecommunications(DoT) collaborates with the Ministry of Urban Development to establish common telecom infrastructure in newly constructed public places.

Besides suitably amending building laws, India also needs to iron out the challenges that TSPs often face when accessing buildings and premises.Building owners often enter into exclusive agreements with one TSP,restricting access to others and thereby limiting competition. This practicedenies consumers the benefits of choice, such as varied service quality, competitive tariffs, and redundancy options.

By promoting open access and fair competition, India can drive innovation, enhance service quality, and ultimately deliver greater benefits to consumers.

It would also be worth looking at the safety of the consumers by promoting the use of bend-insensitive and fire-retardant optical cables indoors. Integrating broadband infrastructure into building regulations and ensuring fair access for TSPs will undoubtedly quicken India’s journey towards a digitally empowered future.

This article first appeared in The Secretariat,