Indian telcos and big tech companies lock horns over E&V spectrum bands

E&V bands sectrum
Locking horns. Photo by makasanaphoto |

India’s telecom operators and big tech companies like Facebook, Google and Microsoft have locked horns over spectrum in the E&V band

While telecom operators want the spectrum in these bands through auctions, tech majors and internet service providers (ISPs) have urged the government to delicense these bands and allot spectrum through the administrative route.

Telecom operators like Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea through their industry body, COAI), said that spectrum in these bands are ideal for 5G services and any move to de-license these bands will “tilt the level playing field” against licensed telecom service providers that already pay huge amounts for acquiring spectrum and licenses besides paying spectrum usage charges every year to the government.

Indian telcos are of the view that delicensing E&V bands will lead to loss of revenue to the government. Telcos have already written to the Department of Telecommunications and the new Trai chairman, P D Vaghela, who took over as the new Chairman of Trai from October 1.

Telcos on Monday urged Vaghela to recommend to the Indian government for allocation of spectrum in E& V bands only through an open and transparent auction to licensed access service providers. They said that allocating spectrum without auction may be unfair to them and may also allow tech companies a low cost, back door entry into providing 5G services.

The Cellular Operators Association of India, which represents all Jio, Airtel and Vodafone Idea, recently said that telecom operators have spent thousands of crores in acquiring spectrum for providing telecom services and it will be highly unjust if spectrum for similar or superior services is offered on a delicensed basis to operators, wherein no payment would be involved.

Tech companies, however, have contested Indian telcos’ view and said that auctioning of spectrum in these bands would go against international best practices. These companies through Broadband India Forum (BIF) said any move to allocate spectrum in these bands through auctions will result in “gross inefficiencies” in spectrum usage and would deny usage of this extremely useful spectrum to other service providers for downloading and backhauling of Broadband services.

BIF represents Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Qualcomm, Apple, Intel, Hughes and Amazon among others in India.

“In fact, Licensing of the V band will enormously decrease the value/utility of this band to the consumer and the economy. Hence, this band should only be delicensed and not auctioned,” BIF said in its recent letter to the DoT secretary Anshu Prakash. 

Internet Service Provider Association of India (ISPAI), which represents the ISP community in India, urged the DoT to address the requirement of spectrum for ISPs and include ISP licensees for the allocation of E&V bands on “first come first serve basis.” It added that delicensing will not cause any revenue loss to the government as all licensed entities such as ISPs, NLDs, ILDOs are ready to pay spectrum usage charges (SUC) for using these airwaves, as suggested by the Indian telecom regulator, the Trai.

“We believe that allocation of E & V bands on a “first come first serve basis” will have far-reaching impacts on the overall growth of broadband penetration in India in line with TRAI recommendations,” Rajesh Chharia, President of ISPAI said in his letter last week.

Spectrum in E band (71-76 GHz and 81-86 GHz) and the V band (57-64 GHz) can transmit data at very high speed. 

Telecom operators said that they want spectrum in these bands for 5G backhaul and access network in India. They said that these bands are “extremely valuable resources” for India for 5G as well as backhaul for mobile broadband, which will enable millions of homes to
access high-speed broadband for entertainment, education and work.

BIF said that telcos are misleading authorities by saying that these E & V bands are being assigned for use as access spectrum bands for IMT purposes. 

“To the best of our knowledge, there is no such identification by ITU RR for allocation of spectrum in E & V bands for IMT purpose. As per the last WRC-19, none of these bands – V band or E band have been identified for IMT.  In fact, the bands for IMT that have been identified in WRC-19 are 26 GHz, 37 GHz, 40GHz, 47 GHz & 66 GHz,” said TV Ramachandran, President of BIF.

He added that WRC-19 has not even recommended any of both E&V bands for future studies to be taken up in WRC-23 or WRC-27.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) had, in November 2015, recommended that both E-band (between 57-64 GHz) and V-band (71-76 and 81-86 GHz) should be opened with light-touch regulation and allotment should be on first-come-first-served and “link to link basis.”

According to media reports, the DoT may go ahead with the light touch licensing model for these bands instead of delicensing or auctions. It has yet to take the final decision.

ISPAI, in its recent letter, said a particular category of service providers are making unjustified representations for retaining their monopoly on the wireless media despite the Trai’s recommendations

ISPAI’s Chharia said that spectrum allocation cannot become the preserve and right of only a handful of the access providers. “…any representation seeking to restrict allocation of spectrum to such a limited number of players is anti-competitive and the need for spectrum of other licensed Operators like ISPs, NLDOs, ILDOs etc. should also be considered and given due recognition,” he added.

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