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Approach:

  1. Introduction.
  2. Mention the issues in India’s spectrum allocation.
  3. Conclusion – concrete steps to alleviate the problems in allocation.

Recently, the government announced 5G spectrum auctions and limited E-Band allocation. Two bands of 250 MHz of E-band spectrum (70-80 GHz) are to be assigned to each telco that gets the 5G spectrum.

Challenges in India’s spectrum allocation:

  • Limited capacity: In other countries such as the US or the EU, policies are framed to enable usage of the full 10 GHz at a minimal cost. This provides flexible capacity for much higher output. But a self-imposed constraint by the government will restrict the capacity of telecoms.
  • Discriminatory allocation of spectrum to non-telecoms :Private companies will be allotted spectrum on preferential terms.
  • Limiting India’s 5G capability : Limiting wireless backhaul or pricing it high will cripple 5G and even 4G. This is because wireless backhaul will not be deployed extensively if the cost is prohibitive. Without extensive wireless backhaul, the access spectrum from auctions cannot be fully utilised.
  • Obsolete Auction Format : The government has not updated the spectrum auction format for long, due to which a persistent fall in the number of bidders is witnessed.
  • Allocation of unlicensed spectrum for Wi-Fi : Wi-Fi shares the load of the carrier network and reduces the demand for mobile network capacity. If the government wants to expand the Wi-Fi facilities, it needs to keep more spectrum unlicensed. The more the unlicensed spectrum allocation, the lower will be the demand for licensed spectrum.
  • Regulatory Framework : The poor framework has resulted in the forceful exit of various players from the telecom sector. This automatically impacts the potential of spectrum auctions.
  • High Upfront Fees : High fees place a greater financial burden on telecoms which impairs their functioning. Hence, some experts are demanding rationalisation of 50% upfront fees on some spectrum bands.

Necessary improvements:

  • Follow the US, the EU, and the UK in E-band backhaul allocation. These include non-exclusive nationwide licences, with mandatory coordination and link registration.
  • Indian authorities need to focus on setting up and institutionalising processes such as non-exclusive licensing to telecoms, and the mechanism of geolocation databases for backhaul spectrum is for mandatory coordination and registration.
  • Policies need to be framed to help build and grow gigabit wireless links to reinvigorate the sector and recover the trajectory and contribution. For instance, India can replicate “Square Mile” concept in London.
  • There are only three serious telecom operators in India. Hence, the spectrum can be allocated equitably to all three without auctions. The funds could then be invested in networks, and collections from revenue sharing are likely to exceed the collections from auctions.
  • Operators should share infrastructure with one neutral host network, or two competing networks owned by different consortiums.
  • Grossly unrealistic pricing of the spectrum should be rationalized. The Department of Telecommunications(DoT) should consult with TRAI and other stakeholders for rationalising the price.
  • The government should release more unlicensed spectrum for multiplying Wi-Fi as a suitable supplement to the carrier network. This will increase the Public Wi-Fi project.
  • Further, the government should release guidelines on future Spectrum Auctions. It will enable the telecoms and OTTs to join hands in providing superior and better services for the benefit of the consumers.
  • The time frame for paying spectrum fees should be enhanced so that the financial burden on telecom operators gets reduced.
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