India will hold its next spectrum sale, which will mark the debut of 5G airwaves, in 2019, and conduct 5G trials within 100 days, new telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, adding that he would talk to the debt-laden industry to understand and address issues of financial stress.
Also taking charge the information technology ministry on Monday, Prasad warned social media companies not to let their platforms be abused for criminal activities such as extremism and violence. He said notifying new guidelines to stop such abuse would be among his key priorities, as would be establishing a National Data Grid and passage of the Data Protection Bill.
He also told reporters that he would try and bring greater synergies between the IT and telecom ministries.
“As far as 5G network is concerned, we will start trials in 100 days,” the minister said, referring to the next-generation mobile communications standard that supports faster data speeds. The government said 5G will play a major role in digital inclusion, social causes, education and health, and bringing technology to rural people.
The government is looking to hold spectrum auctions by September-October and putting on sale all available airwaves, likely at reserve prices recommended by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. Telcos have said that the suggested base prices are too high.
The auction is expected to be India’s largest so far, with 8,293.95 MHz of airwaves at an estimated total base price of Rs 5.77 lakh crore expected to go under the hammer. That’s 3.5 times the 2,354 MHz of spectrum offered at the previous auction in 2016, for which the total base price was Rs 5.63 lakh crore.
The minister’s other priorities include the revival of state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd. and the creation of a Broadband Readiness Index, fast-tracking of half a million Wi-Fi hotspots and promoting telecom manufacturing in India.
Taking charge of the ministry of information technology and electronics, Prasad said the government will work towards establishing a National Data Grid on a priority basis which, along with the data protection act, could establish the bedrock for localising all data related to Indian citizens.
“Data protection law is a priority for us,” said Prasad. “As far as the social media companies are concerned, we all respect freedom of speech and expression… but these are also subject to reasonable restriction… they have done a good job. But they must respect that these free communication of ideas… should not be allowed to generate extremism, communalism, violence.”
Prasad’s tasks will include promoting the startup ecosystem by creating a startup hub, pushing electronic manufacturing and the local manufacture of equipment, including medical devices such as MRI machines, radiation and radiology equipment.