Govt, defence must swap spectrum for 3G play

Written by Jayati Ghose | New Delhi | Updated: Oct 14 2013, 08:25am hrs
Global telecom group GSM Association has urged the government to approve a spectrum swap between the telecom department and the armed forces to free up 15 MHz of 3G airwaves in the 2,100-mhz band for commercial use.

Defence can vacate the spectrum in the 3G band in lieu of 1,900 MHz which is with the telecom department. This will allow DoT to auction 3-4 more 2x5 MHz slots in the 2,100-MHz band along with 900/1,800 MHz band in the current fiscal year, GSMA has written to the DoT secretary MF Farooqui.

GSMA has also added that the auction of spectrum in the 700-MHz band, which is also used to provide high-speed data services, should not be done at this point of time.

It has said that the value of this spectrum for industry or government exchequer will be best realised if auction is held after the relevant ecosystem is largely in place, like it already is internationally for 2,100 Mhz.

The telecom department plans to auction scarce spectrum in 1,800 and 900 MHz by January 2014 to garner around R11,000 crore.

If the government is also able to sell high-speed 3G spectrum, it would lead to substantial revenues for the exchequer (some estimates state R25,000 crore from 3G auction) and help tide over its fiscal deficit problem.

A swap deal will also benefit mobile operators whose plans to offer pan-Indian 3G services was upset as the government barred them from getting into intra-circle roaming pacts with other companies.

In 2010, seven mobile operators had won 5 MHz spectrum but none had won pan-India radiowaves.

DoT is currently in talks with the defence and finance ministries to chalk out a possible deal.

Private players and defence could benefit if about 15 mhz of 2,100 MHzspectrum with defence is swapped with 1,900 MHz spectrum reserved for telecom use, said GSMA.

Importantly, the 15 Mhz, which DoT has identified for swapping is currently lying unused.

Indias 3G networks is expected to start getting congested by early 2015, especially in the metro areas, unless operators receive more 3G carriers.

Additionally, none of the 3G operators currently have pan-India footprint.

Allocation of additional spectrum would boost mobile broadband in India as it would allow operators to address potential network congestion issues and offer better services through their pan-India footprint, said GSMA.

There are currently more than 89 countries and over 211 operators using 2,100 MHz spectrum for 3G services with nearly 4,000 devices for users to choose from. Analysts said this is expected to enable India to leverage global economies to great advantage.

GSMA added that 900 and 1800 MHz band spectrum may not be immediately available for deployment for mobile broadband since the former is extensively in use for 2G services, and most of the free spectrum that DoT plans to auction in the latter lacks contiguity due to scattered assignments and defence deployments.