The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has set up an internal committee, comprising senior officials from the access services, spectrum management and licensing finance divisions, to prepare a road map for the next spectrum auction, which will include airwaves for launching fifth generation (5G) services.
Sources said the panel would analyse recommendations made by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) on spectrum pricing and availability, as well as consider global practices for the next auction. The findings of the 5G forum, headed by Stanford University professor AK Paulraj, will also be taken into account. The committee is expected to submit its report to telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan by December 2018.
Besides analysing cost and availability of airwaves in 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 1800 MHz, among other bands, the panel will also work on identifying more bands for 5G spectrum in line with global practices, sources said.
This is being done after discussions in the 5G forum, which pointed out that while the DoT identified 200 MHz spectrum in the 3.4-3.6 GHz band and earmarked auctioning 175 MHz, with the balance 25 MHz to be reserved for the Isro, this amount is scarce. It also finds the cost of spectrum high and wants the government to set it right.
Telecom industry body COAI too favours this view. “Pricing is clearly not congruent with industry’s expectations. When you are looking at 5G spectrum and use cases, you are no longer looking at 25-30 MHz, you are looking at 100-400 MHz spectrum per operator. And clearly the existing paradigm of valuation is going to blow us out of the water. Globally, the 3.2-3.6 GHz and 26-34 GHz are emerging bands for 5G. The government should identify these and put them for auction,” COAI director general Rajan S Mathews said.
Trai, which last month recommended reserve price for the next round of spectrum auctions across bands, fixed a reserve price for the 5G band at Rs 492 crore per MHz, implying that for a pan-India minimum block of 20 MHz, operators will have to spend Rs 9,840 crore, which is seen as steep by the industry considering that in South Korean auctions for this band in July, the price per MHz was just `130 crore.
Elaborating on the requirement for higher quantum of spectrum, Mathews said 5G bands would have high density, implying capacity to carry higher amount of data, but the distance travelled is not much.
Hence, the need for more spectrum. High cost of spectrum will discourage a company from acquiring more spectrum in these bands, which will, in turn, impact expansion of 5G services.
Industry insiders too favour identifying more bands for 5G services, which essentially widen the telecom pie, but requires much broader spectrum chunks. Such large blocks of spectrum can be found only in higher-frequency bands. Hence, for 5G to work optimally, spectrum in 28 GHz or higher needs to be made available.
The US, which is expected to roll out 5G first, has identified bands in 27.5-28.35 GHz and 37-40 GHz for 5G, while the UK has identified 26-28 GHz and the European Union 24.5-27.5 GHz. In July auctions, South Korea offered 280 MHz of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band and 2400 MHz in the 28 GHz band for 5G services.