India’s telecom department has begun the work to identify additional spectrum in the mid-band after several service providers raised the issue of insufficient airwaves ahead of auctions. The telcos had demanded a larger chunk of spectrum for the roll-out of 5G services in the country and said that the currently available spectrum is “grossly inadequate”.
A senior Department of Telecommunications (DoT) official told Indian newspaper Business Standard that the government is looking for an additional 150 MHz in the mid-band.
“We have allocated the 3300 MHz to 3600 MHz band for 5G services. Worldwide, the allocation of bands for 5G services is from 3300 MHz to 4200 MHz. India doesn’t have that much bandwidth,” he was quoted as saying by the publication.
Currently, India just has 175 MHz spectrum available for 5G services with a cap of 50 MHz per telecom operator. India has four telecom operators, which means all players may not be able to get even 50MHz.
The Indian government had previously earmarked 300MHz in the 300-3600Mhz band for 5G services. However, as per the revised spectrum allocation document, it plans to allocate just 175MHz (3425-3600MHz) of spectrum for 5G after ISRO and the Department of Space (DoS) flagged that they need the 3400-3452Mhz spectrum for NaVIC application.
However, telecom operators have sought at least 80 MHz of spectrum in the mid-band, which was identified by the government for 5G services in the first phase of roll out. Industry analysts said that ideally every telecom operator must get a block of 100 MHz spectrum to build an efficient 5G network in line with global 5G networks.
The DoT official said that Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will have to surrender 100MHz spectrum in the mid-band which will ensure that each player gets at least 80 MHz for 5G services. “…the Ministry of Defense should also agree to take 50MHz spectrum instead of the 100 MHz sought by it. That will make available 325MHz for 5G services,” he further added.
India’s telecom department has yet to start discussions with ISRO and the defence ministry to get the additional spectrum.
The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which represents all three private telecom operators, said that it has been taking up spectrum availability issues with the department and its wireless planning wing (WPC) 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,
Kochhar also said that auctioning of 175MHz spectrum would “potentially grant an equal share of 60MHz of spectrum” to private telecom operators and BSNL might not get any spectrum. Even in this situation, quality of 5G services would adversely impacted
The lobby group said that it asked the telecom department to earmark 400MHz per telco in the mmWave bands (26, 28, 37GHz) and a minimum 2x10MHz per operator in sub-GHz bands 600MHz and 700MHz.
ISRO’s objection isn’t limited to the 3300-3600 bands. It has already raised a similar objection for 3600-3700MHz using its study, where 1300km separation is needed from 5G station.
India’s Department of Space (DoS) and ISRO also 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 Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and the Department of Space (DoS).
The Indian government has already deferred 5G spectrum auction to sometime next year due to these spectrum availability issues with ISRO and the DoS. Additionally, telecom operators said that they won’t be bidding for the 5G spectrum at current prices.