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Daniel Šušnjar, President of the FIC Telecommunications Committee (Telenor d.o.o.)

Telco Infrastructure Critical to Functioning of Society

The 2020 White Book will provide suggestions on how to cut red tape and improve the environmental framework governing base station construction

The crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has proved that the telco industry is more important today than ever before, with our networks representing bloodlines that provide platforms and connectivity for living a new normal. Does it ring a bell when we mention celebrating kids’ birthdays via Zoom, calling family and friends to check on their safety, completing the school year or gaining a university degree online, having meetings with colleagues through Microsoft Teams, ordering food deliveries over the phone or via some online app during a curfew, exchanging pictures through Viber or WhatsApp with loved ones you can’t meet up with due to the pandemic lockdown? And have you asked yourself who enables internet access and connectivity? The answer is telecommunications companies, or telcos.

And how critical is it that their operations are secure? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

Let me share with you just a few examples of the contribution of our industry: e-learning was supported through free-of-charge internet access to platforms such as RTS Planeta and Moja Skola, as well as via MS Teams and Zoom apps; mobile operators provided more than 1,000 mobile phones for the final exam at primary schools, while internet access was additionally secured for both pupils and students from socially vulnerable groups; calls to National COVID-19 Centre numbers were also free-of-charge. Prompted by record amounts of data and voice traffic, mobile operators exerted tremendous efforts to expand the capacities of critical telco infrastructure, which was crucial for securing the continuity of business and emergency services in the early days of the COVID-19 crisis. We are very proud of all our colleagues, who worked day and night to ensure the same quality of telco services in such a challenging environment, while we are also grateful to the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications and to RATEL [telco regulator] for their significant support and timely reactions.

By reaching almost all citizens and communicating with them through smart mobile devices and being able to confirm the identities of postpaid subscribers, mobile operators are the natural partner to the Government and other industries in creating synergy for widespread digital identifications

In order to be able to support society in the days ahead, given that the crisis is not over yet, we should take this moment to solve some of long-standing problems that require even greater cooperation and support from the government and regulator. Although our equipment is typical, certified and produced by globally renowned vendors, we have been delayed significantly with base station deployment. It takes an average of nine months to complete all the paperwork for placing a new base station, due to bottlenecks in construction regulations caused by groundless environmental concerns about electromagnetic emissions (EMF), with EMF exposure limits in Serbia stricter than in the EU, and unjustified requirements for conducting environmental impact assessments. Those of our customers who had to shift instantly to working from home instead of in offices did not have so much time to wait. That’s why we need to cut unnecessary red tape and improve the environmental framework governing base station construction, which will be elaborated in greater detail in the FIC White Book 2020.

When it comes to digitalisation, there are also things that need to be done promptly. Faster digital transformation, to reflect new norms by adopting the framework to conclude paperless contracts and establish personal digital identifications (IDs) at the scale of the entire Serbian population, is a must. EU regulation governing this field is already in place, the Serbian Government is pushing its part of the job, while we already have an advanced digital framework in the banking industry, so it is now up to those of us from the private sector to step up with innovative solutions. 

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