When it comes to natural disasters, India is one of the worst affected countries globally. Not just financially—where it’s among the top five worst affected—but also in terms of human casualties. In the recent monsoon flooding that affected multiple Indian states, over 1,600 people lost their lives.

With countries increasingly prone to natural disasters in an increasingly climate change-affected world, prevention may not be possible. Mitigation, however, absolutely is. Take rescue operations. Brave as these efforts are, they’re far from as effective as they could be.

This was the case a team of executives from Samsung’s Bengaluru-based research institute made at the recently concluded India Mobile Congress (IMC) held in India’s capital, Delhi. Samsung, in partnership with India’s largest telco Reliance Jio, presented a technology solution that could shorten the response time of agencies and save lives.

The Samsung team’s proposal was simple—a dedicated, pan-India public safety broadband network. One that rescuers could tap into unhindered to make calls, send messages and share video footage to improve the efficacy of rescue efforts.

At the event, the Korean electronics major demonstrated a central command centre linked to a set of ruggedised handsets via Jio’s high-speed network. “In case the need arises, a drone camera can be used to provide a live feed to the command centre,” a Samsung executive said.

It seems like an obvious solution in 2019, but the ground reality when it comes to rescue operations in India is positively archaic by comparison. 

Right now, all public safety and disaster management agencies—be it the police, paramedics or fire department—operate their own communications systems. This is done over a narrowband network, which allows only for voice services. “Most of these are old, proprietary, non-interoperable and non-scalable systems,” said a senior government official dealing with telecommunications. Coordination between multiple agencies, therefore, is an uphill struggle.

Samsung has particular expertise in setting up the sort of system they demoed at the IMC. The company was instrumental in the implementation of the world’s first such public safety LTE (long-term evolution, a technology standard that supports 4G) network in South Korea.

In the US, too, Samsung is involved in FirstNet, the country’s first responders network authority that is setting up a dedicated private network for public safety.

The US and South Korea are hardly alone. Globally, countries are upgrading their public safety networks—mostly narrowband, at present—to unified LTE networks accessible by state and local authorities.

Samsung, as one of the pioneers of public protection and disaster relief (PPDR) networks, understandably wants a piece of the Indian pie too. It has persistently met with officials at the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), and the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to open up a business opportunity for itself.

AUTHOR

Pratap Vikram Singh

Pratap is based out of Delhi and covers policy and myriad intersections with the other sectors, most notably technology. He has worked with Governance Now for seven years, reporting on technology, telecom policy, and the social sector.

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