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India’s Draft National Telecom Policy 2011: On Licensing, Regulation, Convergence, Spectrum And Manufacturing

In our final post on the Draft New Telecom Policy 2011, we look at policy recommendations regarding spectrum, regulation, exit policy, as well as policy changes related to support for manufacturing and IP creation (standards).

Our other posts cover:

Separation of content and carriage
Startups & Service Content Providers

We urge you to participate in the policy making process, and give your feedback to the government here. There are 13 days left. We will be submitting our recommendations next week.

Overview of the draft policy from a spectrum, regulation, manufacturing, standards and IP point of view:

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The Draft New Telecom Policy 2011 offers a few practical solutions for addressing issues such as paucity of spectrum, especially the issue of some telecom operators having excess, underutilized spectrum, and others having insufficient spectrum:
– Spectrum sharing, trading: To permit spectrum pooling, sharing and later, trading for optimal and efficient utilisation of spectrum.
– Freeing up spectrum: “To move existing users of spectrum i.e. Government departments, public sector, private sector and telecom service providers to alternative frequency bands or media to make spectrum available for introduction of new technologies”…”To make available adequate globally harmonised spectrum in the bands of 450 MHz, 700 MHz, 1800 MHz, 1910 MHz, 2.1 GHz, 2.3 GHz, 2.5 GHz, 3.5 GHz and bands identified by ITU for commercial mobile services.”
– Creating a spectrum roadmap: To prepare a roadmap for availability of additional spectrum every 5 years.

– Disconnecting spectrum from licenses: “To enact a separate Spectrum Act which inter-alia deals with all issues connected with wireless (spectrum) licences and their terms and conditions including re-farming/ withdrawal of allotted spectrum, spectrum pricing, cancellation or revocation of spectrum licence, exemptions on use of spectrum, spectrum sharing, spectrum trading etc.”…”Delink licensing from spectrum, network sharing: To allow sharing of Networks and delink the licensing of Networks from the delivery of Service to the end users to facilitate faster roll out of services across the country , enhance the quality of service, optimize the investment and address the issue of the digital divide. This will also facilitate increased competition in the telecom sector without putting any entry barrier in setting up of networks by new operators and at the same time allowing the existing operators to increase their network utilization by sharing the network facilities”…”To delink spectrum in respect of all future licences. Spectrum shall be made available at price through market related processes.”

Our take: linking spectrum to licenses was one of the issues with the 2G license sale in 2008, because it guaranteed spectrum to those who bought a license. Of course, some of the companies that got a license then still haven’t been allocated spectrum, but it does beg the question – why sell a “license” if spectrum is not linked to it. The license system doesn’t quite make sense, and anyone who can purchase spectrum, and is compliant with licensing conditions should be given a license at no additional cost. Why we say this is that eventually, the cost will have to be borne by the end-user.

– Disclosures Of Coverage: To make mandatory provision for web based full disclosure of area coverage by telecom service providers.

Our take: this is a great move, but it needs to be down to a district level, and disclosures need to be made regarding 2G, 3G and BWA coverage separately. We’d love to see a map of BSNL’s coverage. In fact, we had to file an RTI with the DoT’s Wireless Planning Commission for spectrum allocation data, whereas this information should be public. Question is – who will validate it?

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– MNP: To extend Intra-circle mobile number portability facility on nationwide basis so that the users can retain their mobile number while shifting from one service area to another, irrespective of the service provider.

Our take: we didnt understand why intra circle MNP was restricted in the first place.

Roaming: To review roaming charges with the ultimate objective of removing the roaming charge across the nation.

– Separation of content and carriage: The creation of two unified licenses, one for a network service operator, another for a service delivery operator. Read our analysis of this policy – probably the most significant one in NTP 2011 – here.

Exit Policy: “To frame an appropriate Exit Policy for the licencees”…”To facilitate resale at service level: both wholesale and retail – especially keeping in mind the need for robust competition at the consumer end while ensuring due compliance with security and other license related obligations”…”To seek TRAI recommendations for new licensing framework, migration of existing licensees to new framework, exit policy etc.”

Our take: The exit policy guidelines are being brought in because of the 2G license allocation. Frankly, people who bought licenses and spectrum then took a business risk, and they knew there was a lock-in period before which they could not sell, and that there are certain rollout obligations. An exit policy gives them an escape route, and perhaps even an opportunity to profit from a bad business decision. We’re against an exit policy, and an escape route will only mean that government policy is malleable, and people will take unnecessary risks in the future and flout licensing conditions. The government should just cancel the licenses or fine those who haven’t met rollout obligations, not offer them an exit.

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Regulation For Convergence

The policy will look to encourage:

– Convergence of services: Convergence of services i.e. convergence of voice, data, video, Internet telephony (VoIP), value added services and broadcasting services
– Convergence of networks: i.e. convergence of access network, carriage network (NLD/ ILD) and broadcast network
3.1.3. Convergence of devices i.e. telephone, Personal Computer, Television, Radio, inter-operable set top boxes and other connected devices.
– Unified Licensing: “To move towards Unified Licence regime in order to exploit the attendant benefits of convergence, for which there is already an in-principle acceptance. A migration path will also have to be provided for existing licensees to Unified Licence Regime.”…”To undertake a comprehensive review of Indian Telegraph Act and its rules and other allied legislations with a view to making them consistent with and in furtherance of the above policy objectives.”
– Digitalization of local cable networks: that policy has already been put into place.

Our take: All fine policy changes, looking at making licensing technology agnostic, which they should be. Also note that the policy also speaks of bringing together government departments to address right of way issues and issues with setting up of cellular towers. In addition, there is talk of separation of content from carriage, through two separate licenses (the Network Service Operator and Service Delivery Operator licenses), which probably means that content and carriage will be governed separately. There is a need, however, to take IPTV out of the purview of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, and make it the DoT’s mandate.


– To become self reliant in telecom/ICT equipment design and manufacturing, with domestic demand is estimated to be of the order of Rs.2,50,000 crore by the end of 12th five year Plan.
– “To promote synergy of academia, R&D centres, manufacturers, service providers, and other stakeholders for achieving collaboration and reorientation of their efforts for creation of IPRs, development and deployment of new products and services suited to Indian environment.” “To set up a council consisting of experts from Telecom Service Providers, Telecom Manufacturing Industry, Government, Academia and R&D institutions. The council will carry out technology and product development forecast and be a nodal group to monitor and ensure the implementation of various recommendations made for promoting indigenous R&D, IPR creation, and manufacturing and deployment of products and services.”

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Our take: Sounds like another committee that will do nothing beyond making recommendations and spend money funding research that will state the obvious. Instead, why not offer concessions to private ventures who invest in marketable R&D with educational institutions.

– Standards:

– To promote setting up of Telecommunications Standard Development Organisation (TSDO) as an autonomous body with strong participation of the industry, R&D centres, service providers, and academia to drive consensus regarding national requirements. It will facilitate access for the Indian Industry in the International Standards Development Organisations and act as an advisory body for incorporation of Indian requirement/IPRs/standards in the international standards.
– To incentivize telecom service providers to use indigenous products by encouraging: Commitment to purchase Indian products that are comparable in price and performance to imported products; Commitment to participate in trials of newly created Indian products, nurture them and place pilot orders; Funding R&D and support Indian IPR creation and participate in creation of standards; To mandate testing and certification of all telecom products for conformance, performance, interoperability, health, safety, security, EMF/EMI/EMC, etc. to ensure safe-to-connect and seamless functioning in the existing and future networks.

Our take: There needs to be a body that will promote research that sets the standards, and then lobbies for international acceptability. For that, there first needs to be research. India has the market to push for setting the standards for future technology, which then means that Indian telecom operators can deploy technology based on licenses for IP owned by Indian companies, instead of money flowing out. But first, there needs to be impetus given to research. Protectionism isn’t the approach that the government should push.

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Written By

Founder @ MediaNama. TED Fellow. Asia21 Fellow @ Asia Society. Co-founder SaveTheInternet.in and Internet Freedom Foundation. Advisory board @ CyberBRICS

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.



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