Phone companies want the government to auction spectrum in the 26 GHz and 28 GHz bands for 5G services in the upcoming sale, and suggested that the telecom department (DoT) urgently seek the sector regulator’s views on pricing these premium airwaves.
The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), in a letter to telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan, said India must emulate US, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong, who have already auctioned 28 GHz spectrum and started deployments without waiting for the International Telecom Union to identify the band, given the increasing ecosystem around this millimeter wave spectrum. Such a scenario, it said, would enable India to leverage “the concerted global 5G ecosystem developments around this band,” which is considered ideal for ultra-fast wireless broadband services.
The COAI, which represents Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio Infocomm, has also urged secretary Sundararajan to send an early “reference to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to include the 28 GHz band along with 26 GHz in the latter’s upcoming discussion paper on pricing of 5G spectrum bands” in the run-up to the next auction.
Earlier this week, new telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad set a 100-days deadline to start 5G trials, and said the next spectrum auction, which would include 5G airwaves, would be held within current year.
COAI’s director general Rajan Mathews said India “must particularly recognise the importance of the 28 GHz 5G frontier band and push for its early adoption as it can transform local manufacturing opportunities”.
Industry executives, in fact, want the Modi government to clear the air on future availability of super-efficient 28 GHz spectrum in India before actual 5G trials get underway, as such a scenario would also hasten local 5G devices ecosystem development, both in terms of 5G handsets and network gear.
A senior executive of a Big 3 telco said availability of 28 GHz spectrum in the next auction “will not only lend impetus to local manufacturing of 5G smartphones and networking gear, but can also hasten local production of autonomous farm vehicles like tractors leveraging 5G technology”.
However, another person said the government would need to ensure the business interests of present users of the 28 GHz band such as the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is protected before allocating these airwaves for 5G mobile broadband services. The band is currently used for delivery of fixed satellite services.
India’s new telecom policy – the National Digital Communications Policy 2018 – though has recognised mid-band spectrum in the 3 GHz to 43 GHz range as central to India’s 5G mobile broadband strategy, and 28 GHz spectrum band would be within the mid-band range, COAI’s Mathews said in the letter to Sundararajan.
Last year, TRAI had proposed the sale of 20 Mhz blocks of 3300-3600 MHz band at a price of Rs 492 crore per unit or 5G services. For the 700 MHz band, which went unsold in the last spectrum sale in 2016, due to high reserve prices, the sector regulator has suggested a 43% cut to Rs 6,568 crore per unit.