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India establishing nationwide Time Stamping & Time Synchronisation network

The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research-National Physical Laboratory (CSIR-NPL) and the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) under the Ministry of Communications in India have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for establishing a nationwide Time Stamping & Time Synchronisation network and traceability of Time signal to UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) NPL Time.

CSIR-NPL is the agency responsible for highest level of time and frequency measurements in India at par with the international standards. The timescale is maintained with the help of a five Cesium (Cs) atomic clocks and a Hydrogen Maser (H-Maser; uses intrinsic properties of the hydrogen atom to serve as a precision frequency reference). All 5 Cs clocks and the H-Maser are contributing to International Atomic Time (TAI) through precise, regulated, automated inter comparison of clocks, precise satellite links and automated daily upload of data to BIPM (Bureau international des poids et mesures or The International Bureau of Weights and Measures [1]).

Every digital event, such as a file saved or an e-mail sent is time-stamped by a computer, using its internal clock that can drift by several seconds over a day and gradually build up an error of many minutes. For the computer to tell the time accurately, it must synchronise its internal clock regularly against a trusted external source of time, which must be both accurate and reliable. 

The time set on Indian telecom networks should be in sync with the Indian Standard Time (IST) zone to enable unique identification of the user (subscriber) of network on tracing of the IP address and other parameters. At the moment, Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) / Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are taking reference time from different sources such as GPS (Global Positioning System) from GNSS (global navigation satellite system [2]). These sources do not have traceability with IST.

The press release explains that the primary purpose of synchronising the telecom networks with the IST time stamp is to help security agencies to overcome the difficulty in analysing and correlating the cyber events in this era of greatly increasing network speed with advancement of telecom technology from 2G to 3G to 4G to 5G. This is expected to help curb cybercrimes.

The implementation of the project will also improve the telecom network efficiency by reducing packet loss due to reduced slips in a better synchronised digital network. This will reduce the Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) call drop and improve the quality of service of the network.

Accuracy of the time depends upon the distance between the Time Synchronisation Centre (reference source) and the location of the TSP/ISP Centres. The Nationwide, Time Stamping & Time Synchronisation network consisting of 22 Time Synchronisation Centers (TSCs) will be set up by DoT with technical assistance from CSIR-NPL. 

This network will provide synchronising pulse in Indian Standard Time(IST) to all Telecom & Internet Service providers in all the 22 LSA (Licensed Service Areas) in the country.

The project will be implemented in two phases.  In the first phase TSCs will be set up in four metro LSAs and in the second phase remaining of the 22 Licensed Service Areas will be covered.

The MoU was signed by Dr D.K. Aswal, Director, CSIR-NPL and by Mr Amit Mishra, DDG, Department of Telecommunications in the presence of Dr Girish Sahni, Director General, CSIR and Secretary, DSIR and Mr Prabhash Singh, Member (Technology), Department of Telecommunications, senior officials from DoT, CSIR and CSIR-NPL.

 [1] BIPM is an intergovernmental organisation, one of three such organisations, established to maintain the International System of Units (SI) under the terms of the Metre Convention.

[2] GNSS is a general term describing any satellite constellation that provides positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) services on a global or regional basis. GPS is a U.S.-owned utility that provides users with positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) services.

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