5G spectrum auction still on schedule despite TRAI delay on pricing info

India 5G spectrum auction
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India’s telecom minister Ashwini Vaishnaw has repeated assurances that the country’s 5G spectrum auction will be held on schedule and within the stipulated timeline, despite the fact that industry regulator TRAI has delayed its recommendations on spectrum pricing by up to ten days.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) was supposed to give 5G recommendations on spectrum pricing and other nuances by the end of March. However, it has reportedly extended the timeline given the “huge task involved”.

The regulator’s recommendations are extremely crucial for the success of the 5G spectrum auction. The recommendations will serve as building blocks and set the pace for the auctions and subsequent rollout of 5G services, according to a report by newswire PTI.

The Indian government is planning to conduct its long-delayed 5G spectrum auction by the May-June period of this year to facilitate the rollout of 5G mobile services by private telecom providers by late 2022 and early 2023.

Last week, the TRAI secretary V Raghunandan informed PTI that the regulator’s recommendations on 5G spectrum pricing and other modalities will come out within the next seven to ten days.

TRAI’s recommendations, once official, will be sent by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) for vetting to the Digital Communications Commission, the apex decision-making body in the telecom sector. After the final vetting, the proposal will go for approval from the Union Cabinet.

After this, the DoT will issue the notice inviting applications from telecom companies.

In November last year, TRAI released a detailed consultation paper to discuss the modalities for auction of spectrum across multiple bands meant for 5G services, including pricing and quantum.

TRAI will give its recommendations and chart out norms for new frequencies such as 526-698 MHz and 24.25 – 28.5 GHz millimetre band along with bands like 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300 MHz, 2500 MHz, and 3300-3670 MHz.

Notably, India’s private telcos like Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea have asked the Indian government to ensure “optimum availability” of spectrum in the mid-band, and have called for a 95% reduction in the recommended base price of the band.

Telcos have made it clear that they won’t buy any 5G spectrum at the recommended base price and urged the authorities to lower the reserve price to keep the costs of rollouts (and service prices) affordable.

The  regulator previously recommended a base price of $67.4 million per unit for spectrum in the 5G mid-band.

Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea are also at loggerheads with satellite companies over the allotment of spectrum in the 28-GHz band. They oppose the proposed allocation of spectrum to non-telco companies via the administrative route, saying all spectrum should be auctioned to ensure a “level playing field”.

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