Indian telcos demand “optimum availability” of 5G spectrum

5G spectrum india
Photo by Fahroni |

India’s telecom operators have asked the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to ensure “optimum availability” of 5G spectrum in the 3300-3600 MHz mid-band, fearing that ongoing issues with the country’s space organization over the spectrum will impact the country’s 5G rollout plans.

As per the recent spectrum allocation document by the DoT, only 175 MHz in the mid-band is available for all three private telcos – Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea – and state-run BSNL.

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which represents all three private telecom operators, said that the 175 MHz allocation is “grossly inadequate”.

“We have been taking up these issues with DoT and WPC [Wireless Planning Commission] regularly. We have been requesting DoT to kindly recognize the importance of the 3300-3600 MHz band for 5G, and thus, this band should be protected and exclusively used for 5G services,” SP Kochhar, director general of COAI, was quoted as saying by the Economic Times.

Telecom operators have demanded that at least 80 MHz per private telecom operator should be made available in the mid-band for 5G services. 

Kochhar said that a 5G operator is assigned a contiguous block of 100 MHz of spectrum in the mid-band globally. He added that Indian telcos can make themselves “ready for 5G” once the government ensures availability of 80MHz spectrum per telco. 

“… [I]f 175 MHz spectrum is auctioned, then each private operator can potentially get an equal share of 60 MHz and such a situation will lead to limiting the usage of this band for 4G only and would adversely impact the rollout of 5G services in the country,” Kochhar further added.

The “spectrum situation” began in February 2019 after the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) objected to the DoT’s plan to make 300 MHz of 3300-3600 mid-band spectrum available for 5G, saying 5G base stations would interfere with its four earth stations for NavIC applications.

The space agency also proposed the DoT prohibit even a single mobile from coming within 300 km of the earth stations.

ISRO’s objection isn’t limited to the 3300-3600 bands. It has already raised a similar objection for 3600-3700MHz, saying that 5G base stations using that band should be kept 1,300 km away from earth stations.

Last week, India’s Department of Space (DoS) and ISRO objected to any spectrum allocation in the 26-GHz millimeter wave band for 5G services. They again cited interference issues between satellite and 5G mobile networks.

Telcos said that blocking 5G deployments in the 26-GHz band “would be in direct conflict with the goals of the National Digital Communications Policy-2018.” They now plan to reach out to the Indian government to establish a consensus between both the DoT and the DoS.

The Indian government has already deferred its 5G spectrum auction to sometime next year due to these spectrum issues. 

COAI said that it has urged the DoT to ensure 400 MHz per telco in the 26, 28 and 37-GHz mmWave bands and at least 2×10 MHz per operator in the 600-MHz and 700-MHz bands.

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