The deadlock over 5G spectrum availability is expected to end soon with India’s Ministry of Defence and the Department of Space (DoS) preparing to vacate 125 Mhz spectrum in the mid-band 3300-3600 MHz band range that had been earmarked for commercial 5G services by the telecom regulator and the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).
The move will allow the DoT to begin preparations for the 5G spectrum auction. It is currently planning to hold a 4G spectrum auction in March.
“Over the last few weeks, there have been inter-ministerial meetings, and the two departments holding 125 units in the 3300-3600 MHz band spectrum, are likely to vacate it as per conditions,” a government official was quoted as saying by the Economic Times.
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.
ISRO previously said that 5G base stations would interfere with the reception of its four earth stations for NavIC applications and had proposed to disallow even a single mobile within 300km from these four stations in India. It had also raised a similar objection for 3600-3700MHz using its study, where 1300km separation is needed from a 5G station.
“…the dialogue has further progressed, and the space agency has sought the protection of its satellite hubs and wanted that no 5G telecom tower be deployed in about 10 kilometres of range,” the official told the publication.
The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which represents Reliance Jio, Airtel and Vodafone Idea, had recently reached out to the Indian government to establish a consensus between both the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and the Department of Space (DoS).
India’s private telcos and TRAI had separately asked the Indian government to ensure “optimum availability” of spectrum in the 3300-3600 mid-band, which has been identified for 5G services in the country.
The DoT had separately asked the DoS and the Ministry of Defence to vacate spectrum in the mid-band and suggested both departments to use spectrum in the 3000-3100 MHz band.
Even if the spectrum “quantum” issue gets resolved, Indian telecom operators will have to deal with the pricing issue.
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 that they could invest in networks and price 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.
India’s antitrust watchdog, CCI, said that 5G spectrum in the country is “relatively more expensive” than other countries and the government needs to ensure that telcos are able to acquire spectrum at affordable rates.
The Competition Commission of India (CCI), in its latest report, said that the current financial health of the telecom sector as a whole could result in an uneven speed of adoption of 5G by operators.