Parliamentary committee finds India unprepared to launch 5G services

committee India 5G unprepared
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India’s parliamentary committee on information technology (IT) said that the country is unprepared to launch 5G services due to insufficient preparatory work and “laid back” approach of the Indian government and authorities.

In its report titled “India’s preparedness for 5G”, the panel observed that India is very much likely to miss 5G opportunities unless time-bound action is taken in core areas where “governmental” intervention is required. 

After discussing with all Indian telecom operators, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), telecom regulator (TRAI), and other stakeholders, the committee found that India has not moved beyond the modest beginning stage as compared to other countries in the world.

The committee had 21 members from the Lok Sabha and ten members from the Rajya Sabha. The Lok Sabha, or House of the People, is the lower house of India’s bicameral Parliament, with the upper house being the Rajya Sabha.

The committee‘s concern about this observation is enhanced by the fact that while 2G was deployed globally in 1991, it was deployed in India only in 1995, whereas 3G was deployed globally in 1998 but deployed in India ten years later in 2008. 

Similarly, 4G services were launched in India 7 years after their global launching in 2008.

“This reflects very poorly on our planning and execution. Now when many countries are swiftly moving towards 5G technology, India is likely to witness its deployment only by the end of 2021 or early part of 2022, that too partially,” the committee, headed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, said in its 125-page report. 

After discussing the matter extensively with all stakeholders, the panel urged the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to review all its policies relating to 5G. It has also asked the DoT to identify the areas that need concerted action and fast track their activity so that a conducive ecosystem for 5G deployment is developed soon and India is not left behind in the race to 5G. 

Additionally, the committee recommended a thorough study of the experience gained by other countries in successfully rolling out 5G for better understanding the complexities involved in the process. 

“The committee further desires that the Department apprise them of the reasons for delay and explain why India has not been able to catch up and keep pace with comparable countries in rolling out 5G services. The committee may be kept informed of the progress made as well as hurdles that in the Government‘s view impede such progress,” it said in its report.

Media reports suggest that India is unlikely to hold a 5G spectrum auction in the upcoming fiscal year as the recent budget estimates don’t include proceeds from a 5G auction. 

The committee deplored the DoT’s “unconscionably long delay” in auctioning of spectrum and recommended an early spectrum auction including spectrum in the 3300 MHz to 3600 MHz band.

The DoT has assured the committee that 3300 MHz to 3600 MHz will be auctioned in the next six months, the report revealed. 

The report also revealed that the deadlock over 5G spectrum availability would end soon with India’s Ministry of Defence and the Department of Space (DoS) preparing to vacate 125 MHz spectrum in the mid-band or the 3300-3600 MHz band range.

India’s Ministry of Defence currently holds spectrum in the 3300-3400 MHz band, while the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) holds spectrum in the 3400-3425 MHz band. Due to this, only 175 MHz spectrum is available for all four Indian telecom operators. They have demanded at least 75 MHz for each telco.

“The committee are fully aware of the extreme shortage of spectrum in the country. Availability of 175 MHz only in 3300 MHz to 3600 MHz band will mean that approximately 50 MHz or so spectrum per operator could be allocated, which is far below the global average,” it said in the report.

The panel added that not allocating the right amount of spectrum will deprive the customers of good quality of services and lead to severe under-utilisation of investment made as the equipment installed cannot be optimally utilised.

Indian telcos like Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea already said they wouldn’t buy the 5G spectrum at the recommended base price. They urged India to lower the reserve price for 5G spectrum so they could invest in networks and price the services affordably.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) recommended a base price of $67.4 million per unit for spectrum in the 5G band.

The panel said that spectrum pricing related concerns expressed by telcos could not be ignored but merit attention. 

“Factors such as per capita income and ARPU should also be taken into consideration. The committee recommended that the issue of high spectrum prices be looked into, and DoT/TRAI should come out with a convincing spectrum pricing policy that is sustainable, affordable and acceptable to all, focusing on consumer interest and socio-economic goals of our country,” the panel said in its report.

The panel further added that long-term consumer benefit should be the guiding principle and not short term revenue maximisation. 

“TRAI needs to take the TSPs on board as it is they who are contributing to the growth of the sector,” it said.

India’s antitrust watchdog, CCI, said that the 5G spectrum in the country is “relatively more expensive” than other countries and the government needs to ensure that telcos can acquire spectrum at affordable rates.

Related article: India expects to fetch $7.3 billion from telecom sector in FY22

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