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Friday, October 23, 2020

Telcos, tech companies divided over spectrum

The issue that has divided the two sides is whether spectrum in the band concerned should be delicensed or should be allocated through auctions, as is the case for access services spectrum.

By: ENS Economic Bureau | New Delhi | October 18, 2020 12:54:38 am
A fight is brewing between telecom operators Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio on one side and technology players Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, etc, on the other, over E and V spectrum bands.

A major fight is brewing between telecom operators Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio on one side and technology players Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, etc, on the other, over a spectrum band that has the potential to provide high-speed broadband services, especially in remote areas and for better in-building coverage.

The issue that has divided the two sides is whether spectrum in the band concerned should be delicensed or should be allocated through auctions, as is the case for access services spectrum.

The telecom operators, under the aegis of their association, Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI), have written a letter to the government that the spectrum in the band concerned should be auctioned, as not doing so would lead to loss of revenue to the government because of these bands having a very high commercial value proposition. Opposing their stand, the technology players through their association Broadband India Forum (BIF) have contested COAI’s stand, and written that the spectrum should be delicensed and not auctioned, as it is not the same as spectrum for access services. Questioning the COAI’s stand, BIF has pointed out that auctioning of spectrum in these bands would go against international best practices

The spectrum concerned is the E and V bands, which are used as backhaul to connect mobile where fibre is not available.

Sources in the department of telecommunications (DoT) have thus far maintained that auction is ruled out, but so is administrative assignment, which means allocating spectrum on first-cum-first-served basis. What’s likely on the cards is a light touch licensing but a final decision is awaited.

In fact, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), which submitted its recommendations to the DoT way back in August 2014, has also favoured a light licensing approach and not auctioning this spectrum.

The argument against auction is on the premise that there’s not much the government is going to get by doing so, unlike access spectrum. The value of a spectrum band depends upon various factors like ecosystem but the most important factor is its propagation characteristics. FE

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