Indian telcos will have to wait for legislation to get 5G backhaul spectrum

Huawei India backhaul
Photo by Klingsup

India’s mobile operators will have to wait longer to get more backhaul spectrum in the E and V bands, as the department of telecommunications (DoT) is waiting until the Spectrum Act is finalized, which will determine if the spectrum is allocated by administrative process or through auctions.

As per a report by the Financial Express, the government will only make spectrum allocations for backhaul requirements after the policy, which will also define the manner of grant of all forms of spectrum be it administrative or through auctions.

The report added that the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has now scrapped its previous decision to formulate a policy for backhaul spectrum and is focusing on the Spectrum Act to bring all kinds of spectrum allocation under one umbrella.

The DoT is also examining whether allocation can be done through administrative process in addition to the auction route.

“Once [the Spectrum Act] is finalized, backhaul airwaves will also be given to telcos,” a government official was quoted as saying by the publication.

The report added that the DoT is expected to seek legal opinion because the so-called Spectrum Act may result in amendments in the existing Telegraph Act to spell out the modes of spectrum allocation.

Backhaul spectrum is used by the operators to connect their different sites. Spectrum in the E band (71-76 GHz and 81-86 GHz) and V band (57-64 GHz) can transmit data at very high speeds. Indian telecom operators want spectrum in these bands for 5G backhaul and access networks.

Telcos said that these bands are “extremely valuable resources” 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. They have been waiting for an allocation for the last one-and-a-half years.

As per the report, Indian telecom operators have given an undertaking to the DoT that they will abide by the final decision regarding conditions of the upcoming policy, thus allocations can be made before the policy is formulated.

Indian telecom operators have also claimed that the lack of backhaul spectrum is affecting quality of service with their customer base, which is rising every month.

The Indian government used to allocate backhaul spectrum to telcos through the administrative route, but it stopped the practice after a 2012 Supreme Court order that mandated that natural resources including spectrum should be allocated through an auction process.

In November 2015, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) recommended that both the E-band and V-band should be opened with light-touch regulation, and allotment should be on first-come-first-served and “link to link” basis

In 2016, Indian telcos received backhaul spectrum on a provision basis. However, the DoT has given them no additional spectrum since then.

Notably, tech companies like Facebook, Google and Microsoft have also been locking horns with Indian telcos, saying that auctioning the E and V bands would go against international best practices, result in “gross inefficiencies” in spectrum usage and deny usage of this extremely useful spectrum to other service providers for backhauling of broadband services.

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