War of words intensifies between Indian telcos and big tech over 5G

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The war of words between tech and telecom companies in India has intensified over private 5G networks as the Indian government nears the commencement of spectrum auction later this month.

Tech companies, through their representative body, the Broadband India Forum (BIF), have countered Indian telcos’ claims that administrative spectrum allotment for captive networks would give a backdoor entry to big technology players to provide 5G services and solutions to enterprises.

BIF alleged that “vested interests” were attempting to derail the Cabinet’s historic decision.

“…certain quarters and incumbents with vested interests are attempting to derail this progressive development through irrational, misleading and misinformed claims for a level playing field between the vastly different service domains of Public Networks and Captive Non-Public Networks,” BIF said in a statement.

The body said that it was highly irreverent to imply that the Cabinet decision permitting allocation of direct spectrum to Private Enterprises offers a backdoor entry for them to get 5G spectrum and set up public and consumer 5G networks.

BIF represents big tech companies such as Cisco, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook-owner Meta, Tata Consultancy Services, Qualcomm and Intel, among its key members.

“It is ludicrous that misleading and misinformed views are being propagated demanding a level playing field between two completely different sets of services, i.e. massive country-wide Public Networks and significantly smaller and limited Captive Non-Public Networks, especially when the playing field is actually completely tilted in the favour of the telcos,” BIF president T.V. Ramachandran said in the statement.

“This seems to be an attempt to have a select group with vested interests decide and offer their services as per their wishes to the enterprises, depriving them of the fundamental right to choose, for preferred service/s as well as service provider.”

Indian telecom operators, a few days back called for a level playing field and said that direct spectrum allotments for captive private networks would effectively give a backdoor entry to big tech players to provide 5G services and solutions to enterprises in India. They said that big tech companies could do this without equivalent regulatory compliance and payment of levies that telcos in the country are subjected to.

“If the independent entities set up private captive networks with direct 5G spectrum allotment by DoT (Department of Telecommunications), it will diminish the revenue so much that there will be no viable business case left for the TSPs, and there will not remain any need for 5G Networks rollout by TSPs,” the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) had said on Thursday.

The COAI, which represents Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, noted that companies wanting to use 5G spectrum for captive networks have also applied for open bidding of airwaves “which ensures that level playing field is maintained and all interested parties bid for the spectrum required by them”.  The telco body was alluding to Adani Data Networks, that has stated it intends to use 5G spectrum acquired in the upcoming auction to provide private network solutions for its enterprise business across airports, ports & logistics, power generation, distribution and manufacturing operations.

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