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

India spectrum NFAP
Image by New Africa | Bigstockphoto

India is set to include new 5G bands for commercial use ahead of the next round of spectrum bands by revising its spectrum policy document, called the National Frequency Allocation Plan (NFAP).

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 move follows private telecom operators’ concerns over the inadequate availability of 5G spectrum for the commercial launch. They had raised concerns over the continuing delay at the government end in revising the NFAP-2018 many quarters after the International Telecom Union (ITU) had identified multiple new airwave bands for global 5G deployments, including in India.

The revised spectrum policy document will now include spectrum across sub-GHz, 1-6 GHz and millimetre wave bands such as 26GHz and 28 GHz, which the ITU identified in November 2019.

The country’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) will unveil the NFAP in early-April. The revised document will also chart out all available spectrum bands and various services that can be used for broadband and defence satellite operations.

According to a report by the Economic Times, the updated document will also meet the requirements of the aviation, Information & Broadcast (I&B), railways and home ministries.

The updated NFAP will serve as a reference document for India’s telecom regulator, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, to start fresh consultations on all available 5G spectrum bands and their pricing before the next auction.

The regulator had previously earmarked spectrum in the mid-band (3.3-3.6 GHz bands) only for 5G services. However, India’s Ministry of Defence holds some 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 as against their demand for 300 MHz spectrum.

Last week, all three private telcos wrote to India’s telecom secretary Anshu Prakash to push the telecom regulator to quickly start a fresh consultation on pricing and quantum for 26 GHz, 28 GHz and 37 GHz or mm wavebands in the upcoming 5G spectrum sale.

Indian telcos, through their representative body, COAI, have already conveyed to the authorities that spectrum in the 26 GHz and 28 GHz bands are prime bands for rolling out 5G services in India and for different use cases, especially for industries and enterprises. They want India to allocate at least 400 MHz of spectrum in these bands per operator.

These private telcos — Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea — have told the DoT that unavailability of spectrum in mm-wave bands such as 26 GHz and 28 GHz will increase the cost of 5G network deployment in India, making the high-speed internet service unaffordable to Indian consumers.

“…while inclusion of mmWaves in the updated NFAP is important, any reservation of these airwaves, particularly 26 GHz, for government agencies would hurt 5G deployments in India,” a senior telco executive was quoted as saying by the publication.

Interestingly, India’s Department of Space has already objected to spectrum allocation in the 26 GHz band for 5G, claiming that the release of spectrum in this band can cause interference between satellite and 5G mobile networks.

Indian telcos have also warned that the upcoming 5G spectrum auction could fail if the Indian government doesn’t reduce the base price for spectrum earmarked for high-speed internet services. Due to steep pricing, the Indian government couldn’t fetch bids for super-premium and 5G-suitable 700 MHz in the March auction this year.

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