The much-awaited 5G spectrum auction is likely to be held in May 2022 – but only if the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) shares its recommendations with the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) on sale process and pricing by the end of March.
If the auctions are held in May, India will see the launch of 5G services by the end of 2022.
In 2021 TRAI launched a 5G spectrum consultation paper. Participants had until February 15 to submit comments. TRAI now has to review the statements and share the final recommendations with the DoT.
While several conflicts have emerged in the comments posted by the service providers, the telcos agree that the reserve cost of the spectrum must be reduced. The government was unsuccessful selling the 700MHz spectrum in previous auctions because of the high reserve rate.
"Given the fact that in 2016 only 41% and in 2021, only 37.1% of the spectrum was sold, the majority of that at the reserve price itself, we suggest that the reserve price should be kept low and fixed at 50% of the valuation of the spectrum to enable competitive bidding and market-driven price discovery," said the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) in their response.
Spectrum in 700MHz, 800MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz, 2100MHz, 2300MGz, 2500MHz, and 3300MHZ to 3600MHz will be auctioned.
There is unlikely to be any active bidding in the upcoming auctions because there will be only three telcos (Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea), coupled with the lack of spectrum available and the high reserve price. Considering the poor financial health of Vodafone Idea, it is likely to bid selectively.
Spectrum for 5G private networks
A conflict is building in the industry over how spectrum should be allotted for 5G private networks.
While telcos believe spectrum should be auctioned and licensed, technology companies think it should be offered at administrative rates to enterprises that want to build 5G private networks.
"Any move such as setting aside/ allocation of 5G spectrum (via delicensed/ administrative basis) for catering to the connectivity needs of Industry 4.0 / M2M communication services by way of Private Captive Networks, not only truncate the revenues of the licensed service providers but also affect the revenue of the Government," said the COAI response to the TRAI consultation paper.
Meanwhile, technology companies believe that they should get the spectrum directly from the government.
"Greater control over network design and spectrum management are crucial enablers for the success of NPNs across a diverse and constantly evolving set of end-use requirements. Therefore, direct licensing of the earmarked spectrum is likely to enable a greater number of use cases for NPNs, while also providing certainty to enterprises on the availability spectrum access for the duration of the licenses," said the National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) response.
The TRAI recommendations should address key concerns for a successful auction. They have been delayed for several years now, and any further wait will set the 5G launch back by a few more years.
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— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading