5G: Telecom majors to push DoT to release new 5G spectrum band


Kolkata: Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea (Vi) are likely to push the government to revise a key spectrum policy document, to include the new 5G airwave bands approved by the International Telecom Union (ITU) for speedy auctioning of the 26 Ghz millimetre waves for ultra-fast wireless broadband service in India.

The Big 3 telcos are likely to voice their concerns to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) as the National Frequency Allocation Plan (NFAP-2018) has not been updated by the department’s wireless planning cell (WPC) more than a year after several new airwave bands, including the 26 Ghz spectrum, were identified by the ITU for 5G deployments worldwide, including in India.

The NFAP is a central policy roadmap that defines future spectrum usage by all bodies in the country, including DoT, the Department of Space and the defence ministry. Telcos want it revised quickly as any further delay could potentially hinder the auctioning of the premium millimetre-wave 5G bands.

“The NFAP-2018 needs to be revised expeditiously by the WPC to align different stakeholders if a meaningful 5G auction is to happen later this year, and the industry will take up the matter with DoT,” a senior industry executive told ET.

In November 2019, Geneva-based ITU had identified a clutch of new airwaves, including the 24.25-27.5 Ghz (popularly known as the 26 Ghz band), 37-43.5 Ghz, 45.5-47 Ghz, 47.2-48.2 Ghz and 66-71 Ghz bands for 5G services. Effectively, as much as 17.25 Ghz was approved for 5G deployments at the World Radio Communications-2019 conference in Egypt, but none of these bands (primarily the millimetre waves) have been included in India’s NFAP.

Indications are that the telcos may communicate their concerns to DoT through the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI).

The COAI, Airtel, Jio and Vi did not reply to ET’s queries till press time Sunday.

Last month, the Cabinet approved an auction of 4G airwaves in March 2021. The government has yet to clear the air on the timing of India’s maiden 5G spectrum sale, but indications are that it might happen later this year.

Both telcos and DoT want the sector regulator to ensure that both millimetre waves (26 Ghz and above) as well as mid-band spectrum (in 3.3-3.6 Ghz) are auctioned in the 5G spectrum sale.

Telcos have repeatedly maintained that unavailability of the 26 Ghz spectrum — considered among the most efficient for 5G services — could jolt the 5G business case in India. This is since without these airwaves, 5G deployment costs would rise several fold for telcos, making the ultra-fast wireless broadband service unaffordable. Worse, India won’t be able to leverage the 5G global devices ecosystem that is rapidly developing around the 26 Ghz band, especially with the US, China, South Korea and Japan backing 5G global deployments in this spectrum.

An apex panel of secretaries had recently nudged the Department of Space (DoS) and the defence ministry to favourably consider the DoT’s request to part with all idle 5G spectrum — both in the 26 Ghz band and in the 3.3-3.6 Ghz frequencies — for commercial use by telecom companies. These airwaves are with DoS and the defence ministry.

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