TRAI delay on spectrum pricing could delay Indian 5G launches to 2023

spectrum auction
Image credit: Nuno Andre |

The Indian government is likely to delay its 5G spectrum auction until July 2022, as the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) says it won’t submit its pricing recommendations until March that year – which in turn means telecom operators will only be able to launch commercial 5G services in urban pockets in 2023.

The 5G spectrum auction is currently slated for April-May 2022. However, TRAI – which started the critical process of setting starting prices of ten spectrum bands earmarked by the government for 5G services last month – informed the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) last week that it will submit its 5G spectrum pricing recommendations by March.

“TRAI will submit its final recommendations to the telecom department by March. The auctions in April-May are unlikely and a July timeframe is possible,” a government official was quoted as saying by the Economic Times.

Once TRAI submits the recommendations, the DoT will then send those recommendations for vetting to the Digital Communications Commission, the apex decision-making body in the telecom sector. After the final vetting, the proposal will go for approval by the Union Cabinet. After that, the DoT will issue the notice inviting applications from telecom companies.

“As a result, the rollout of mobile telephony services based on 5G starting from urban pockets may get pushed into 2023,” the official reportedly said.

Another official told the publication that the telecom regulator is working at a “record pace” on the spectrum pricing recommendations.

As per the report, the Indian government has asked telecom operators to attempt 5G launch in some urban pockets by August 15 – the day India celebrates its independence day.

Indian telecom operators such as Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel have already said that it will take six months for them to start offering commercial 5G services from when the spectrum is allotted.

Telcos have asked the Indian government to ensure “optimum availability” of spectrum in the mid band. Telcos have also made it clear that they won’t buy 5G spectrum at the recommended base price and urged the authorities to lower the reserve price for 5G spectrum so that they could invest in networks and price the services affordably.

TRAI previously recommended a base price of $67.4 million per unit for spectrum in the 5G mid-band.

Indian telcos are currently conducting 5G field trials with vendors to test use cases. They have also formed alliances with various IT companies and system integrators to develop and test India-specific 5G use cases.

Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani last week said the rollout of 5G services should be made India’s national priority and that Jio is ready to “quickly and seamlessly “upgrade its network from 4G to 5G.

Ambani also highlighted the need for affordable devices and applications along with services for greater digital inclusion in the country and urged the Indian government to use the universal service obligation fund (USOF) to ensure that all Indians are connected.

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