India 5G spectrum auction plan may hit a Navy hurdle

India navy
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India’s plan to sell 5G spectrum next year could face new hurdles from the Indian Navy who expressed reservations in vacating 100 Mhz of the spectrum, which is being used by naval radar systems and for satellite ground communications.

“The Indian Navy is showing reluctance in vacating the spectrum from the 3.3 GHz-3.4 GHz band that it is using. Unless there is some traction with them on this issue, we can’t seek consultation from TRAI,” a department of telecom (DoT) official was quoted as saying by Business Standard.

The Indian Navy through the Ministry of Defence holds spectrum in the 3300-3400 MHz band. Interestingly, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) also holds spectrum in the 3400-3425 MHz band.

The Indian government intends to auction spectrum in the mid-band (3300 MHz-3600 MHz), which has been earmarked for high-speed 5G services by the telecom regulator, Trai. To successfully conduct the spectrum auction next year, the DoT is required to ensure optimum availability of spectrum for all three private telecom operators.

According to reports, both the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Space (DoS) were planning to vacate the 125 Mhz spectrum in the mid band following several rounds of inter-ministerial meetings in January. However, the second wave of Covid-19 led to several delays. 

During the meetings, the ISRO had sought protection of its satellite hubs, and wanted that no 5G telecom tower be deployed in about 10 kilometres of range. The space agency had  previously said that 5G base stations will 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. 

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which represents Reliance Jio, Airtel and Vodafone Idea, also 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 the regular separately asked the Indian government to ensure “optimum availability” of spectrum in the mid band.

Indian telcos have already said that they won’t buy 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 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 publication reported that the DoT will ask the regulator for views on the price discovery of the 2600-2800 MHz band, which may be put up for sale along with spectrum in the mid-band next year.

The government of India is separately planning to revise the key spectrum policy document that will now include spectrum across sub-GHz, 1-6 Ghz and millimeter wave bands such as 26GHz and 28 GHz which were identified by the ITU in November 2019. The revised NFAP was expected to be unveiled by the DoT in April. 

India’s NFAP is the central policy roadmap that defines future spectrum usage by all stakeholders including the Department of Telecommunications, the Department of Space and the Ministry of Defence. The revised document will also chart out all available spectrum bands and various services that can be used for broadband and defence satellite operations.

India telcos have already written to the telecom regulator to quickly start a fresh consultation on pricing and quantum for 26 GHz, 28 GHz and 37 GHz or mm wave bands. They want the DoT to put up mmwave spectrum for sale along with spectrum in the mid-band next year. 

Related article:

India to revise spectrum plan to release new 5G bands for telcos

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