The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has issued a consultation paper seeking feedback on plans to auction off a ton of spectrum for 5G usage – but so far the initial feedback from cellcos is that they’re not keen on any more spectrum auctions until at least 2019.
The consultation paper, released on Monday, outlines plans to auction spectrum in nine sub-6 GHz spectrum bands: 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300 MHz, 2500 MHz, 3300-3400 MHz and 3400-3600 MHz.
Trai is seeking comment on specific issues regarding the minimum amount of spectrum to be auctioned, optimal block size, duplexing scheme, spectrum cap, roll-out conditions and methods to be used for valuating and estimating the reserve price.
The regulator is also seeking comment on when to start the auction, mindful of the fact that spectrum sold in October last year hasn’t yet been fully deployed. Additionally, with the mobile industry currently undergoing consolidation – triggered by various financial woes – there’s the question of whether Trai should wait for the dust to settle before kicking off the next auction.
India’s cellcos have already waded in on that question via the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), whose director-general Rajan Mathews said that they are in no hurry to buy any new spectrum for 4G, 5G or anything else before 2019, reports ET Telecom:
“The regulatory & technical standards for 5G are globally still in the process of deliberations and consultations. Thus, 2019 might be a more appropriate time to auction 5G spectrum by when a suitable ecosystem – including apps and services – is likely to develop and also better use cases and applications around 5G technology,” he said.
Mathews added that auctions per se should be pushed back ideally to early 2019, once the ongoing sector consolidation draws to a close.
That slots in with expectations from some analysts that India isn’t likely to see any significant demand for 5G services until long after 2020.
Another issue is the reserve price. Trai already tried to auction the 700-MHz band last year, but no one bid for it because the reserve price was set far too high. COAI said Trai needs to serious rethink its pricing system before cellcos will entertain another auction.
Mahesh Uppal, director at consultancy Com First (India), told ET Telecom that Trai should ideally lower the reserve price of the 700-MHz spectrum to at least one-tenth of the original price.
Trai said it will accept written comments from stakeholders until September 25, and counter-comments by October 3.