TRAI sets its sights on satellite spectrum allocation debate

TRAI satellite
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The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) will soon start consultation with industry stakeholders to decide whether spectrum for satellite services should be auctioned auction or administratively allocated to satellite companies.

TRAI will also try to determine which bands are most suitable so that both telecom operators and satellite players can co-exist.

India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has already given its recommendations to the regulator on spectrum availability in the Ku and Ka bands, which are used for satellite communications.

DoT won’t push TRAI either way

The DoT already allocates spectrum in the Ku band through the administrative route. However, Indian telcos like Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea are demanding that spectrum in this band should be allocated via the auction process only.

Analysts have said that satellite services in the Ka-band (26.5 – 40 GHz) can help add significant economic benefits to countries like India. Viasat recently said that India may lose $184.6 billion in terms of economic value by 2030 if the 28-GHz spectrum band is auctioned for 5G.

“DoT too feels that although satellite companies need spectrum at few locations for setting up their earth stations but to serve customers, who are spread across the country, they need access spectrum and for allocating access spectrum, auction is the desired way,” the Economic Times reported citing sources.

However, the DoT said it will not impose its stance and leave the decision to TRAI to suggest an allocation methodology for satellite spectrum, the report added.

Jio and Airtel at loggerheads

Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel have been at loggerheads over regulating satellite-based broadband services in the country, as well as how satellite spectrum is allocated.

Bharti Enterprises Chairman Sunil Mittal previously said that satellite broadband spectrum should be given administratively as has been the practice in the rest of the world. Bharti is a major investor in satcom service provider OneWeb, which is looking to start services soon in India. OneWeb has received a global mobile personal communication by satellite (GMPCS) license and other regulatory approvals, but is still awaiting policy-related clarity around spectrum allocation.

Jio favors auctions for satellite spectrum over the administrative route, even though last year it announced a joint venture with Luxembourg’s SES to offer satellite-based services to deliver “affordable connectivity”. Notably, SES doesn’t support auctions for satellite spectrum.

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