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5G Spectrum: TRAI Chairman Advocates Higher Frequency Band For Telcos

Even as the conflicts with Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Department of Space, and defence ministry are yet to be resolved, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) chairman PD Vaghela says that each telecom operator should get 80 MHz (megahertz) of 5G spectrum.

“If not 100 MHz, then at least 80 MHz. 100 MHz is ideal. We are clear that we cannot give inadequate spectrum to the telecom sector. That will be detrimental to the sector. It makes them dependable on the government. They will be begging to the government to give more spectrum which is not good. It doesn’t help them in taking investment decisions,” Vaghela said in a Business Today panel discussion.

Vaghela also added that the telecom regulator is clear that there should be an audit of the spectrum requirements. “We should check that Department of Space or any other organisation which is holding on this [5G] spectrum, if they can give it up, and they can be adjusted in some other spectrum. All over the world, there have been decisions taken where this spectrum has been given exclusively to the industry,” he said.

An Indian media outfit noted that the ongoing tussle between the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), and DoS, ISRO and defence ministry has already delayed the launch of 5G in the country. Globally, radiowaves across sub-1 GHz (600 MHz, 700 MHz), mid-band (3.5 GHz), and millimeter-band (26, 28 GHz) are being used to deliver 5G services. Within this, 3.5 GHz range is getting the most traction.

But there are complications in the 3.5 GHz range which has primarily two bands – 3300-3400 MHz and 3400-3600 MHz. For instance, 3300-3400 MHz band is currently being used by defence ministry, and the DoT has reportedly asked them to use 3000-3100 MHz in place of this band. Similarly, a 25 MHz block (3400-3425 MHz) within 3400-3600 MHz is being used by ISRO which DoT is reportedly asking them to vacate.

With these conflicts, DoT is in a position to offer just 175 MHz of spectrum in 3.5 GHz range which is lower than what it intends to sell (400 MHz). If just 175 MHz of spectrum is available, three telco (Reliance Jio, Airtel, Vodafone Idea) would each get about 60 MHz.

The disputes don’t end with just mid-band. DoS has reportedly refused to vacate 26 GHz spectrum (millimetre wave) on grounds that it could interfere with its satellite communication systems.

Telecom operators like Jio and Airtel said that the right amount of spectrum is important for telcos to not fall into the 4G trap, which essentially means that each operator is getting spectrum which is just one-fourth of the global average yet they are required to service four times as many customers.

While some industry experts believe getting 100 MHz spectrum (in 3.5 GHz range) upfront might not be possible, and the government should have a roadmap on spectrum availability and auctions; others think it would be a mistake if DoT gives just 40 MHz of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band initially, and then makes more spectrum available because it becomes challenging to re-calibrate the networks at a later stage.

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