Why a national accurate traceable legal time is crucial for India’s digital economy


Amutha Arunachalam CSIR


By Amutha Arunachalam, CSIR

Availability of accurate traceable legal time is one of the critical needs for the nation’s progress towards strengthening the Digital Economy. Looking towards the variety of economic activities in Communication systems, Electric Power Grids, Financial networks, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT-5G, Internet of Things, cloud computing, cyber security and data technologies etc.) Networks with applications such as e-Commerce, e-Banking, e-Governance, e-Education and Tele-medicine, transportation networks(various modes of transport) weather systems, the urgency to identify the National Road Map to obtain anaccurate,traceable, legal time for the various critical sectors shall play an important role in strengthening the Digital Economy.

Where does the time come from?
Time is one of the Seven SI(International System of Metric Units) units under International metrology which is the scientific study of Measurements. “International Bureau of Weights and Measures” (BIPM) is the intergovernmental organization located in Paris, France, is over seen by the International Committee for weights and measures(CIPM) with the elected representatives from the member nations. The BIPM has the task to generate and disseminatethe international reference timescale UTC(coordinated universal time), by their Time department in cooperation of 78 institutes worldwide(as on March 2017)also includes some astronomical observatories and research center that operate high quality atomic clocks and time transfer equipment.

When time measurement started?
It has been an emphasis of many civilizations for thousands of years. Similar to many measurements we regularly guesstimate (length, height, mass etc.), the history and basis of time measurement and the improvements made over the last number of decades largely goes unnoticed, but suffice to say that the accurate measurement of time underpins much of the digital age we live in.The generation and measurement of time, various types of water and sand clocks were developed, but each had inherent problems. A massive leap by Galileo in 16th Century, with the idea of measuring time through the use of a pendulum which ticked at a fixed frequency. This ‘oscillating’ clock laid the foundation for all subsequent timing devices.

What is traceability of Time?
Traceability is the ability to verify the history, location, or application of an item by means of documented recorded identification.A traceable measurement is one that can be related to national or international standards using unbroken chain of measurements, each of which has stated uncertainty. Whatever the time source and dissemination methods are used must provide traceability back to UTC.

Traceability requires a continuous chain of comparison with known uncertainties, all of which must be documented. The traceability of time needs not only to be valid but also to be presented to the user. Calibration reports, besides presenting the calibration results, also provide evidence about the traceability of the time.

How time accuracy and synchronization is important?
Synchronization is needed for mission critical applications in power grid/substation automation, digital broadcasting, telecommunication networks, Navigation, signal processing, test and measurement systems, defense, high resolution spectroscopy,aviation, space and world class research organizations.

Depending on the area of application, Different types of time accuracies are required.
Banks, trading firms and stock exchanges need ultra-precise timing synchronization at the application layer with high-speed, low-latency, that far exceeds sub-100 microsecond level accuracy to UTC with 1 microsecond granularity.Stock-market-transactions time accuracy in a sub microsecond range is absolutely necessary for reliable time stamping, to be able to prove (even worldwide) that stocks have been bought or sold at a rate, at that moment valid.

In the telecommunications industry, stringent time synchronization is required (less than a few microseconds)for the generation of signals over the air interface of mobile systems supporting synchronous interworking. In future, a timing instability better than 20 ns at all core-locations and better than 1 ns between core locations will be required.

In the power industry, generators thousands of miles at a distance need regularly stop in phase at 60 cycles per second. If generators work at diverse points in the phase cycle, they will essentially work against each other—not only dipping power output but possibly put an end to the generators themselves. In addition, there are literally millions of electric clocks around the world that use the 60 Hz cycle (or 50 Hz, depending on which country you are in) to maintain the correct time. During periods of high load this cycle tends to slow down and, alternatively, to speed up during periods of light load. Utilities in turn depend on on precise network time synchronization to ensure that they do in fact provide the correct phase cycle their customers expect.

As more and more business is conducted online, more industries will have to come to grips with the importance of accurate time stamps to ensure the integrity of their business transactions.

Synchronization includes phase and frequency synchronization.To be able to distribute the received absolute time from a time source, time transportation methods like time protocols are needed. The most frequently used protocol is the network time protocol (NTP). NTP is a protocol and software implementation for synchronizing the clocks of computer systems over packet switched, variable-latency data networks.Time synchronized networks enable accurate time stamping. This is important to properly sort events and transactions into chronological order. Like this occurred disturbances or problems can easily be detected and solved. Another function of time stamping is that it can be used as evidence in case of audits or in court.

Are there problems in Poor Network Timekeeping?
A time tripwire is demonstrating that core of most IT infrastructures—becomes the same infrastructure on which organizations depend to produce products, buy from suppliers, sell to customers, prepare financial reports, and communicate both internally and externally, in short do all the things that most organizations do. When the clocks in a network fall out of sync—with each other or with the correct time—bad things start to happen. Processes fail. Data is lost. Security is compromised. Legal exposure increases. And organizations lose credibility with customers and business partners who eventually can lead to decreased revenue and profit.

Why accurate traceable legal time is a need for a Digital India?
IDC predicts worldwide spending on digital transformation technologies will expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.8% through 2019 to more than $2.1 trillion; India is no exception to this. Every business of every size risks fundamental disruption because of new technologies, new players, new ecosystems, and new ways of doing business. Nation is in the path of successful transformation with the digital world in a continuous collaboration, problem solving and creative thinking to benefit the Citizens expectations.

Agility is the need for Digital sustenance where thinking, deciding, executing, failing, learning and scaling are done fast. In this new economy, enterprises will be measured by their ability to hit and exceed a whole new set of demanding performance benchmarks enabled by cloud, mobility, cognitive/artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR), and the digital transformations fueled by these technologies. Innovations in Digital Payments have made India the only country in the world with a fingerprint-based payment system (bio-metric system). According to government’s statistics, digital transactions have increased to Rs 865.9 crore in 2016-2017 from Rs.254.5 crores. As a step to raise the internet connectivity, the government has been able to increase the Optical Fiber Broadband Network to 2, 05,404 km this year. Digital India programme with the vision to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.

Government has a special responsibility to its citizen to be able to assure that every effort made has been to render our systems safe and to protect our data and our networks from attack or interference. The future of the nation’s security and prosperity rests on digital foundations. The challenge of our generation is to build a flourishing digital society that is both resilient to cyber threats, and equipped with the knowledge and capabilities required to maximize opportunities and manage risks. Malicious actors – hostile states, criminal or terrorist organizations and individuals – can exploit the gap between convenience and security. Narrowing that gap is a national priority. Strategy to deal Criminal activity such as : 1) cyber-dependent crimes – crimes that can be committed only through the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) devices, where the devices are both the tool for committing the crime, and the target of the crime (e.g. developing and propagating malware for financial gain, hacking to steal, damage, distort or destroy data and/or network or activity); and 2) cyber-enabled crimes – traditional crimes which can be increased in scale or reach by the use of computers, computer networks or other forms of ICT (such as cyber-enabled fraud and data theft).

Trustworthy electronic records, requires organizations /individuals to employ procedures and controls designed to ensure the authenticity, integrity and when appropriate the confidentiality of electronic records, and to ensure that the signer cannot readily repudiate the signed record as not genuine. To satisfy this requirement persons must, among other things, employ procedures and controls that include the use of computer generated time stamps.

What can be the National Road Map?
The complexities of R&D, product trials, business transactions and ongoing communications with partners, consumers and government agencies have prompted exacting requirements for validating electronic information exchanges and transactions within and between organizations.
Major Areas where deep thought process has to be worked are identified as areas for focus:
Legislation, Organization, Financing, Personnel, Equipment, Premises, Traceability, quality system, Inter comparison, international recognition status for Time generation, time transfer and time dissemination.

A defined National legal metrology Act focused to the SI unit TIME with distinct creation, functional and Institutional Mechanisms classifying the size, structure and the task engaging organization / group of organizations at national level that shall be able to serve needs of Society, Industry and Science in terms of research, dissemination services and dissemination technologies as a time assured assignment.

An effective road map for building National Time Synchronization services to cater to all critical areas impacting Digital Economy is the need of the hour to safeguard the mission critical application of various sectors.

(Views expressed in this article are the personal views of the author)


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