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COAI to DoT: Allocating white spaces to unlicensed players distorts market

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The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), a lobbying association comprising largely of India’s GSM operators, has asked the DoT to limit allocation of spectrum in the 470-698MHz band (white spaces) to licensed players only. It pointed out that “creating an entry for any specific player” through the use of delicensed white spaces will create distortion in the market and could also cause a “considerable amount of loss to the exchequer”.

In July last year, Microsoft India got approval by the IT ministry to conduct research on utilizing white spaces for providing  internet connectivity in rural reaches. By November 2015,  Microsoft’s pilot was successfully being tested  in Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh and it planned to extend the pilot in Varanasi as well. However, IT minsiter, Ravi Shankar Prasad, told ET that spectrum “will only be provided through auction and that no exceptions will be made”, even when Microsoft said that its not looking to become an ISP, but rather provide “cheap internet connectivity to remote areas”.

In a similar case, Google also got an in-princple approval from the Indian government in December 2015 for running a pilot version of Project Loon that uses white spaces to beam internet through weather balloons. However, telecom minister RS Prasad had expressed concern that Google’s Project Loon will interfere with existing telecom spectrum. In March, Google was reportedly in talks with Indian telcos including BSNL to help launch Project Loon in India.

‘Unlicensed allocation of white spaces could distort market’

COAI has argued that any allocation of such whites paces for a sole technology such as LTE, wired/wireless broadband etc. might bring unfair advantages and that it would against the principle of a level playing field and could distort the market because of “inappropriate or inequitable regulation”.

The COAI also said in the letter that allocating spectrum for a particular technology is against the Government’s own policy regarding the use of liberalized spectrum. It also said that the 460-698 MHz band must not be allocated “in a manner that will distort the market through inappropriate or inequitable regulation,” which could bring ‘unfair advantages’.

However, if the DoT wants to go ahead with allocating parts of unused spectrum in the 470-698 MHz band, then the COAI has requested the DoT to communicate such decisions before the release of Notice Inviting Applications (NIA) for auction of the 700MHz band, so that “bids can be made in an informed manner”.

‘No control over unlicensed usage’

It further states that allocating the 470-698 MHz band in a delicensed manner without an incentive structure to use spectrum efficiently , could ‘result in “unlicensed usage of devices” and could cause inferences in the network.

“We also believe that allocating spectrum in 470-698 MHz band in a delicensed manner, being sub GHz frequency, will result in sub optimal/inefficient usage of this spectrum, as there will be need to very large protection zones to manage the interference resulting in inefficient reuse/hoping. This contradicts the very basic advantage of using lower frequencies. Also…there would be no incentive to use spectrum more efficiently and there would be no control over unlicensed usage of devices”

Image Credit: Wikipedia user Leon Brooks under Public Domain

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