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TRAI calls for feedback on 5G spectrum allocation as telcos and satellite services remain divided

Indian telcos asserted that all spectrum bands be listed for auction, while satellite players said that their operations will suffer.

A telecom tower

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has urged companies and stakeholders to submit their opinion on the allocation of spectrum for 5G services by February 15, according to a PTI report. The decision was taken after there was a disagreement between telecom operators and satellite companies at TRAI’s open house consultation held on February 8, 2022, the report added.

Reliance Jio’s President of Public Policy and Regulatory Affairs Ravi Gandhi, Airtel’s Chief Regulatory Officer Rahul Vatts, and COAI Deputy Director General Vikram Tiwathia recommended that TRAI should fix the base price of 5G spectrum in mid-band and high frequency band using international benchmarks, Free Press Journal reported.

TRAI should map international pricing benchmarks at telecom circle level by using a matrix of average revenue per user, GDP of the country, etc., the representatives added.

TRAI had earlier recommended base price of proposed 5G spectrum in 3,300-3,600 Mhz band at about Rs. 492 crores per Mhz unpaired spectrum on pan-India basis which will mean telecom operators will have to shell out a minimum of Rs. 9,840 crores to buy spectrum in the 3,300-3,600 Mhz band, the newspaper explained.

The auction of 5G spectrum will be held this year according to the Indian government. The comments made during the consultation provide an insight into expectations of various players who would be crucial in rolling out 5G services across India.

What did the telcos demand?

Reliance Jio: Gandhi argued that the base price of spectrum in higher frequency bands of 24.5 Ghz to 29.5 Ghz should be fixed at 1 percent of the base price of the mid-frequency band, Economic Times reported. Gandhi also recommended that the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) must include an additional 1 gigahertz for IMT (International Mobile Telecommunication) services.

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“All these spectrum bands in the consultation paper should be put to auction, and 25.7GHz up to 29.5GHz should also be put to auction,” Ravi Gandhi was quoted as saying.

Vodafone-Idea: Ajay Mehta, Vice President – Policy at Vodafone Idea, echoed Gandhi’s views and said that spectrum from 3,300 to 3,670 MHz should be provided to telcos for IMT services and 5G. He said that the spectrum quantity should be increased to 4.3 gigahertz. He was also of the opinion that the millimeter-wave band’s quantum has to be increased from 28.5 to 29.5, ET wrote in its report.

Bharti Airtel: “We are recommending that 3300 to 3800MHz be adopted in India. The availability of contiguous and interference-free spectrum is very critical,” Rahul Vatts, Vice President – Regulatory Affairs at Bharti Airtel, was quoted as saying. Vatts said that the regulator should ensure that the spectrum is going to be interference-free for use commercially by operators as it would be unfair for it to remain unutilised after telcos shell out fees at the auction. He added that the TRAI should consider giving 24.25 to 27.5GHz band to four operators in the country, and then provide 27.5 to 28.5 GHz to satellite services.

The bone of contention between telcos and satellite services is the latter’s suggestion that allocation should be done administratively whereas telecom companies prefer an auction.

Concerns raised by satellite players

The satellite players do not want an auction for the high frequency range of 27.5-28.5 Ghz, PTI said in its report. The band has not been auctioned globally and India should follow the same pattern, Indian Space Association Director General AK Bhatt said at the vritual discussion.

Mehul Bhandari, Government & Regulatory Affairs – Asia Pacific, Viasat, requested that the band should be reserved for discussion on the upcoming consultation on the spectrum for satellite to make those discussions “more complete” as it is crucial for satellite providers.

The allocation of this frequency will adversely impact the company’s operation, Inmarsat India’s Managing Director Gautam Sharma commented, citing in-flight services and maritime connectivity provided to 500 vessels in the 28 Ghz frequency band.

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5G auctions to take place this year

The government announced that it will conduct the required spectrum auctions for 5G in 2022 to facilitate the rollout of 5G mobile services within 2022- 23, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in her Budget 2022-23 speech.

India’s 5G network is in its final stages of development and the country is also parallelly participating in the development of 6G standards, Minister for Electronics and IT Ashwini Vaishnaw said at an event.

He had earlier informed PTI that TRAI’s recommendation on 5G spectrum is expected to come by March, after which spectrum action will be held expeditiously for the roll out of the next generation service.

Vaishnaw also revealed that the Department of Telecom is parallely working on other auction-related processes to start the spectrum auction at the earliest.

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I cover several beats such as Crypto, Telecom, and OTT at MediaNama. I can be found loitering at my local theatre when I am off work consuming movies by the dozen.

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