The next round of spectrum auction is slated to take place from March 1, 2021. Telecom operators have been waiting for the auctions to enhance their spectrum portfolio for better positioning in rolling out 5G services and also to enhance existing capacity. The government will be auctioning airwaves in the 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz - considered as sub 1 GHz bands, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300 MHz, and 2500 MHz bands. Today we will be highlighting the quantum of spectrum put to auction and list out the operators who have been using airwaves in a certain band the most.
What Technology Can Operators Use the Auctioned Spectrum For?
The spectrum put into the auction will be ‘liberalised’ in nature. This means that it can be put to use for any kind of technology the operators wish to use it for with the approval of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) for the same.
So if the operators want to use the spectrum for 2G, 4G, or 5G, they can do so. Spectrum blocks which are purchased in the auction across bands can be combined if required using the carrier aggregation (CA) technology to provide better speeds and enhance experience. The government hasn’t put any restriction on the kind of technology operators will be using given it falls within the scope of the service license and is compatible with the technologies which already exist in the Licensed Service Areas (LSA).
In case the technology is GSM/WCDMA/LTE/CDMA, the successful bidder will have to submit all the details of the technology going to be deployed using the spectrum acquired to provide services within one month of obtaining the license. If the bidder uses new technology, information about the same needs to be submitted at least six months* before testing it. The new technology must be approved by ITU/TEC or any other International Standards Organization/body.
Which Operator is Currently Using Which Spectrum Band the Most?
- 700MHz Band - 700 MHz band is unutilized so far as operators haven't showed any interest in the previous auction because of the exorbitant base price of this band and hence none of the operators have participated and won any spectrum in this band. The government is offering the entire spectrum of 30 MHz in the 700 MHz band in the auction.
- 800MHz Band - Jio enjoys a majority of the spectrum in 800 MHz band, but most of it is coming up for renewal in 2021; thus, DoT has included it in the auction. Airtel also has a negligible amount of spectrum in the 800 MHz band in just 5 circles.
- 900MHz Band - Vodafone Idea followed by Airtel and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) enjoys most of the spectrum in this band. This band is considered the most valuable for telcos during the times when they offered 2G services for the coverage this band offers. Now telcos started offering 4G services on this band.
- 1800MHz band - Vodafone Idea enjoys major share of spectrum in this band followed by Airtel and Jio.This band easily offers coverage and capacity and is the most commonly available band on 4G devices of any price tag.
- 2100MHz Band - 2100 MHz band which was earlier used by the operators to provide 3G services is now being refarmed to 4G in most circles. Users have reported better upload speeds and 4G experience overall with a supported device in this spectrum band.
- 2300MHz Band - 2300 MHz band is well known as a standard for high-speed wireless broadband access in India among consumers. Reliance Jio holds the majority of this spectrum followed by Airtel which holds just 30 MHz lesser of this band than Jio. Vodafone Idea holds 30 MHz of spectrum (10 MHz in each) in this band in its top circles namely Kerala, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh (MP).
- 2500MHz Band - Vodafone Idea is the only private telco in the country which holds spectrum in the 2500 MHz band enabling the telco in providing high bandwidth capacity to the users on a compatible handset.
Quantum of Spectrum Put to Action
All the in-depth details regarding the spectrum holdings, bands can be found on India Spectrum Holding Timeline page.
Importance of 700MHz Band
700MHz band is considered to be the base band for telcos to offer 5G services because of the coverage this band offers. So, for telcos to provide seamless coverage this band is the supporting band for 5G services. 700MHz along with mid bands and higher bands (mmWaves) will provide a seamless 5G experience to customers.
Important Dates of the Auction
Starting with all the major dates related to the auction, February 5, 2021, is the last date of application for the operators. On February 24, 2021, the final list of bidders will be revealed, and on March 1, 2021, the auctions will start. The license duration or validity period of right to use spectrum in all the bands on auction will be 20 years from the ‘effective date’.
Spectrum Block Sizes
DoT will sell the spectrum in different bands in different block sizes. The 700 MHz band will be sold in the block size of 5 MHz (paired), 800 MHz band in the block size of 1.25 MHz (paired), 900 MHz band in the block size of 0.2 MHz (paired), 1,800 MHz band in the block size of 0.2 MHz (paired), 2,100 MHz band in the block size of 5 MHz (paired), 2,300 MHz band in the block size of 10 MHz (unpaired), and 2,500 MHz band in the block of 10 MHz (unpaired).
*28 Jan 2021- Amendment