Indian regulator issues consultation paper on 5G spectrum reserve price

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has released a consultation paper titled "Auction of spectrum in the frequencies identified for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT)/5G."

It comes in response to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) request to TRAI to provide recommendations on the subject.

Apart from spectrum pricing, the consultation paper seeks comment on other areas including valuation methodologies, service rollout obligations, and payment terms. TRAI has also sought the industry's view on whether spectrum in the 526MHz to 617MHz and 600MHz ranges should be put up for auction. Stakeholders can respond by December 28.

The consultation paper will play a crucial role in deciding the pricing of the 5G spectrum up for auction in April to May 2022.

The government hopes telcos will be able to roll out 5G services on Independence Day (August 15). The spectrum on sale includes 700Mhz, 800MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz, 2100MHz, 2300MHz, 2500MHz and 3,300MHz to 3,600MHz. It is not yet clear whether the auction will include millimeter-wave spectrum.

Testing times

Indian service providers are conducting trials and tests with the 5G spectrum in 700MHz, 3.5GHz and 26GHz frequency bands, allocated to them earlier in 2021. They recently received a six-month extension to develop 5G use cases.

All three private Indian telcos – Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea – have raised concerns about the high cost of 5G spectrum. Bharti Airtel has said that it will not participate in the auction at the current base price – service providers will need to shell out INR500 bn ($66.68bn) for 100Mhz spectrum.

With the DoT again asking the regulator for recommended prices, it opens the doors for the administration to bring down rates and avoid the debacle of the previous two spectrum auctions, when the much sought after 700MHz spectrum remained unsold because of the high reserve rate.

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Significantly, the TRAI has also added queries about 5G-enabled private networks, one of the most promising use cases. As of now private networks are not allowed in India.

The queries are around the pricing of the spectrum for private networks; the required policy changes; different business models; whether service providers should be permitted to give access to spectrum on lease and whether spectrum should be earmarked for private networks.

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— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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