Security Threats for Field Engineers in Karachi

_1009540_paki_karachi_map150The Base Support Subsystem (BSS) is an integral part of the overall GSM network. It involves BSS planning and BSS deployment. As the name suggests, BSS deployment has to do with spending time on the field and installing telecom sites and rectifying problems that may arise during operations.

For this, usually male engineers are hired as the field work is often too hectic and may require engineers to be on the field round the clock.

Both telecom operators (like Mobilink, Telenor, Zong, Ufone and Warid) and vendors (like Ericsson, Huawei, ZTE, Nokia Siemens and Alcatel-Lucent) outsource such tasks to sub-contractual companies – about whom we have already written in “Woes with Telecom Sub-Contractors”.

Working on field exposes an engineer to numerous threats, highlighted by the fact that once an engineer is approaching to a telecom site, predators know that he will most likely be carrying expensive equipment.

Till 2008, most news that surfaced about kidnapping telecom engineers from field locations were vastly restricted to areas known for civil insecurity. But since long, the wave has engulfed almost every town in the country, Karachi being the most notorious for this.

To make things worse – and as reported in a recent event in Karachi with a drive test engineer working for a telecom vendor – attackers (exhibiting their affiliation with a political party) kidnapped engineers with the accompanying staff for ransom.

In one event on getting the ransom amount, instead of releasing, the kidnappers then contacted the company and demanded a handsome amount for the stable running of the telecom site, else company was threatened that equipment will be destroyed and tower may get physically damaged.

In another incident, when the Field Operations team of a telecom operator visited a telecom site for refueling in premise of Baldia Town Karachi, they were kept hostage till fuel worth PKR 0.1 million was given. It has also been reported that units of various political parties demand extortion money, otherwise threatening to damage the telecom site in their area.

An indicator of how much sites are stable and operating normally in an area, called “TCH Availability”, is low for almost all telecom operators in disturbed areas of the city as the sites run out of fuel and eventually close down making it a big concern to provide coverage and quality service to customers in that area.

Such events and concerns have been the table-talk topics in team meetings but our tendency to accept routines, adjust to atrocities incline us to carry on the same way. PTA and telecom companies are as apparently helpless as the law enforcement agencies of the country.

Much should be done to preserve lives of engineers and technicians at the expense of network quality.

If it’s the government that should be held responsible for opening a new front of challenges for telecom operators and engineers? Whoever be the responsible, the situation will get only worse if not addressed at earliest.