As telecom operators and technology players slug it out over spectrum allocation to build private networks, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has set up an internal committee to suggest the way forward.
Sources said the committee would chart the entire road map with regard to private networks, their needs, timing, pricing, possible models etc. The committee’s report would then be sent to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India which after vetting it, would suggest its own set of recommendations so that a holistic policy can be formulated in this regard.
This implies that whenever the Union Cabinet approves the 5G spectrum pricing it may just accord in-principle clearance to the concept of private networks by adding that the modalities would be spelt out later, when the government and Trai work out the details. In policy matters the government’s say is final, but according to the Trai Act, the government is bound to seek the authority’s recommendations on matters like introduction of new services, its need, and timing. Though, in its recommendations on the reserve price for 5G spectrum auctions, Trai has given all the options like allocating spectrum directly to enterprises to build private networks, or they taking the same on lease from telecom operators and build themselves, or get the networks build by the operators only; it has not detailed the pricing part.
For instance, even if spectrum is directly allocated by the government to enterprises for private networks, an administrative price has to be fixed for the same. Further, licence fee and spectrum charges would also be needed to be fixed.
The Broadband India Forum, which counts big tech players like Facebook, Google, Cisco, Amazon, TCS, Microsoft, Intel, etc as its members, and is a proponent of direct allocation of spectrum, has suggested that the same should be done at nominal administrative fee, as per global best practices.
As reported earlier, Cellular Operators Association of India has strongly opposed any direct allocation of spectrum to enterprises for private networks. The association, which has all the three telecom operators — Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, and Vodafone Idea — as its members, has said direct spectrum allocation to enterprises for private networks would give them back-door entry into telecom services, deprive the government of revenues, and also pose security threat. It said the move would lead to revenue loss for the telecom operators and threaten their business viability.