Connecting With Chaos?

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Serious doubts are being cast on HCL-Motorola’s ability to provide a secure radio network during the Commonwealth Games, says Kunal Majumder

Illustration: Naorem Ashish

IS HCL-MOTOROLA capable of delivering a secured radio network during the Commonwealth Games – or is it caught in a peculiar blame game, jeopardising national security? Three consortia were shortlisted in April last year after a global tender sought to create a government radio network using the Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA) facility. This specialised communication technology, which includes static, handheld and mobile handsets, is designed for use by government agencies and paramilitary and emergency services.

Software major HCL and telecom giant Motorola quoted around Rs 100 crore to win the contract for setting up and running the radio network for seven years, covering the duration of the Commonwealth Games, starting October this year. Another software giant, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), and EADS, an European defence company, quoted Rs 156 crore and a third software company, Tech Mahindra, along with another European defence company, Selex, quoted Rs 328 crore. Interestingly, all three consortia claimed they had the right product. During the demo sessions in September last year, the bidders were told to comply with certain technical requirements essential for a secure network.

That was when the bidders realised that the conditions in the original tender had been altered and critical requirements mentioned in the Request for Proposal (RFP) were either removed or made optional. Both TCS and Tech Mahindra sources allege that they weren’t informed about these before the demonstration began — in violation of Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) guidelines.

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WRONG SIGNALS

1 THE MOTOROLA HANDSET USES JAVA VIA WAP. PUSH IMAGE CAPABILITIES ARE NOT AVAILABLE IN WAP-BASED MODELS. STILL IMAGES CAN’T BE TRANSFERRED SIMULTANEOUSLY

2 MOTOROLA DOES NOT SUPPORT SEAMLESS HANDOVER OF CALLS BETWEEN TWO BASE STATIONS

3 CERTAIN FEATURES OF THE MOTOROLA SYSTEM DO NOT WORK PROPERLY IN EMERGENCY SITUATIONS

4 REQUIREMENTS WERE ALLEGEDLY ALTERED AFTER THE FINANCIAL BID TO SUIT HCL-MOTOROLA

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Unanswered Motorola’s TETRA certificate showing it can’t restore calls during emergencies

TCS raised its concerns with both the Delhi Government’s IT Secretary and its consultant — Telecommunication Consultants India Ltd (TCIL). It pointed to non-compliance of features like the fallback mode operation that could have “significant security repercussions”. The company also requested TCIL and the Delhi government for a “fair and equitable re-evaluation” by independent experts. But the IT Secretary Savitur Prasad, refuses to do so. Describing TCS’ complaint as “shocking and unbelievable”, he accused the company of questioning a “transparent bid system”. Interestingly, the TETRA letter to the IT Secretary, which says the test reports are a “work in progress”, does not anywhere reject the allegations made by TCS-EADS.

 

The TCS letter raising doubts

There were three major requirements in the original RFP which HCL-Motorola failed to comply with. First, the handheld radio set was not Java-enabled. Java is essential for quick transmission of images across terminals. But in Motorola’s system, the image can be forwarded to users only individually, not simultaneously, says a senior retired intelligence officer on condition of anonymity. “This means if an image is to be transmitted to 3,000 users near Nehru Stadium (as mentioned in the original RFP), the Motorola system will take a couple of hours and EADS only a few seconds,” he adds. Agrees telecom expert Ravi Visvesvaraya Prasad: “The Motorola terminals, which use WAP to access Java, are not capable of this.”

Secondly, Motorola’s TETRA test report and TETRA interoperability certificate show that it does not support seamless handover of calls between two base stations. “When roaming from one base to another, Motorola’s connectivity gets disrupted because of its break-and-thenmake pattern,” says the retired sleuth. Officials present at the demo session reveal that Motorala’s seamless test was conducted in its Gurgaon office, where there is only one base station.

Prasad says it is similar to the GSM technology used by all mobiles. “When mobile phone connections move from one tower to another, there is uninterrupted connectivity. But Motorola takes between half and one-and-a-half seconds to register at a new base station before becoming operable. In an emergency, even such a small time difference can create major confusion.”

Thirdly, the original RFP demanded that all new registrations during fallback certifiwould have to be accepted. If there is a disturbance in the network due to a bomb blast or terror attack, the base station starts operating in the fallback mode. “The fallback mode cannot be overlooked, because it ensures that communication is not disrupted in such crisis situations. The Motorola system can only re-register 2,000 users in fallback mode — and any additional user, even if he is the Police Commissioner, will get dropped. It can’t re-register when most needed,” says Prasad.

Even in the fallback mode, certain key features had been diluted by TCIL. These features — individual calls, short data messages and status messages — were absent in the system offered by HCLMotorola.

WORSE, THE Rs 100 crore quoted by HCL-Motorola seems unrealistic. Two major factors in deciding the total expenditure for the network are TETRA system (TETRA hardware and handsets, installation included), and telecom infrastructure for setting up base stations. (HCL-Motorola plans to set up 46 base stations around the Capital.) The TETRA system would cost at least Rs 90 crore and telecom infrastructure Rs 35-40 crore. “How is it possible to set up a network with such little investment?” asks an expert involved in setting up a TETRA network in Parliament.

Delhi’s It Department Says TCS And EADS Are Spreading Lies About HCL-Motorola

Arindam Bose, TCS’ Advisor, government industry solutions unit, says both TCS and its partner EADS, on whose evaluation the complaint against HCLMotorola was lodged, want the matter closed. Both have been served show cause notices by the Delhi government’s IT department, which accuses them of spreading false information about HCLMotorola.

As for HCL, it continues to insist that it has what is needed, and it is confident of having the radio network in place by May, 2010. It describes the allegations levelled against it as “baseless and typical of a loser”.

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