The GSM Association (GSMA) has warned Indian authorities that its plan to reserve 5G spectrum for enterprise captive networks or private networks could lead to serious repercussions for the wider mobile services market.
In a letter dated April 6 to India’s telecom secretary K Rajaraman, GSMA’s head of public policy Jeanette Whyte said reserving spectrum for enterprises, especially in mid- and high IMT frequency bands that have been globally harmonized for 5G usage, “poses significant risks to wider mobile services, most notably slower 5G networks and reduced coverage.”
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has recommended that spectrum in bands such as 3700-3800 MHz, 4800-4990 MHz and 28.5-29.5 GHz be assigned directly to enterprises for their private networks. However, Whyte said that these bands are important bands that will play a vital role in providing future capacity to Indian mobile networks.
Assigning spectrum in key 5G bands for enterprise private networks could create a non-level playing field, and would also lead to artificial scarcity and fragmentation of spectrum, Whyte said.
DoT could still reject spectrum allocation plan
India approved the direct allocation of 5G spectrum to enterprises in June 2022. However, it hasn’t spelled out the specifics of the allocation methodology.
The Department of Telecommunication (DoT) may still reject the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s proposal to reserve some bands of airwaves for captive private networks. The DoT reportedly prefers that enterprises lease spectrum from telcos for private networks, as per a recent report by the Economic Times.
The country’s attorney general R Venkataramani recently opined that auction should remain the preferred way to allot a natural resource like spectrum.
Enterprises like Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Tata Communications, Infosys, Capgemini, GMR, ITC and Larsen & Toubro had approached the authorities seeking spectrum through direct allocation for 5G private networks. If the DoT gets its way, it will deliver a blow to enterprises’ 5G ambitions.
Ironically, enterprise has long been touted in India and elsewhere as a key new growth market for telcos rolling out 5G services. The GSMA has always seen enterprise as a key use case for 5G technology, whether as a private a network or a 5G-powered offering from telcos.
Alternative ways to do private 5G, says GSMA
Whyte argued in her letter that while private networks are indeed an integral part of 5G, supporting their growth does not have to mean resorting to asymmetric spectrum carve-outs or set-asides.
“Such measures are an aggressive regulatory tool with a huge economic cost,” she said,
The GSMA estimates that spectrum fragmentation may jeopardize future expansion of services and dampen the mobile data ecosystem, which is expected to contribute an estimated $136 billion to the Indian economy.
Whyte added that telcos already support the needs of enterprises, including the provision of private networks. Meanwhile, alternate spectrum access options such as spectrum leasing and network slicing offered by telcos would provide more flexibility to enterprises.