Spectrum auctions are slated to take place around April-May next year but the government is trying to launch 5G services around August 15. According to sources, communications minister Ashwini Vaishnaw took a review meeting with Department of Telecommunications (DoT) officials earlier this week to understand if the commercial launch of 5G services at select circles or locations is a possibility by August 15.
Sources said a limited 5G launch is possible by that date if the DoT provides clarity around unencumbered spectrum which can be put for auction. Also, the industry needs to be given an assurance that the reserve price would be brought down. “If these issues are sorted out at the earliest, telecom operators can place orders for equipment and make all the arrangements around rollout, so that when auctions are conducted in April-May, telcos are prepared to launch services within a short span of time,” said an industry source.
Many countries including the US, China, South Korea and European nations, among others, have already launched 5G services, while India is in a preparatory phase. Earlier this year, the standing committee on information technology, chaired by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, had pulled up the DoT for not doing sufficient preparatory work for launching of 5G services in India. After the report was tabled in Parliament, the DoT commenced 5G trials, which are currently underway.
The government has been in regular touch with the industry about 5G to resolve whatever issues are being raised by the telcos. The DoT has also replied to questions raised by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) about spectrum availability. The regulator had asked the DoT to give a clear roadmap around spectrum availability, usage by government entities and other players like broadcasters, as well as notification of various bands. This was because Trai wants clarity on all the aspects of spectrum before coming out with a consultation paper for the upcoming auction.
Vaishnaw said recently that the 5G spectrum auction is likely to take place around April-May next year. Earlier, the government was aiming to conduct the auction in March. Trai is expected to give its recommendations in February-March around the pricing of spectrum.
In September, the DoT had written to Trai seeking its recommendations on pricing, quantum and other modalities pertaining to spectrum in multiple bands. The DoT’s reference seeks views of Trai on base price, quantum and all other modalities for spectrum across multiple bands. These include bands such as 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300 MHz, 2500 MHz as also 3,300-3,600 MHz bands (that were not put up for auctions in the last round), and millimetre-wave band (24.25-28.5 GHz).
The last round of spectrum auctions, held in March this year, had raked-in winning bids of over Rs 77,800 crore for 855.6 MHz of spectrum. The industry is hopeful of a cut in the reserve price of spectrum as the dynamics of the sector has changed now with just three players as against six to seven earlier. In the last auctions, all the airwaves were sold at reserve price only with majority of the spectrum remaining unsold. For instance, in the March auction, of the total 2,308 MHz of spectrum on sale, which at reserve price was worth Rs 3.92 lakh crore, saw only 37% getting sold. Two bands, 700 MHz and 2500 MHz saw no takers.