The Department of Telecommunications is annoyed by the delay being caused by the telecom operators in the auction of 5G spectrum. This time the government is very eager on the task of bringing the 5G technology to the country ahead of other nations, as such the slacking on the timeline by the carriers is not at all pleasing for the DoT. Senior officials inside the DoT informed that the telcos are demanding from the government that the date of the auction of the 5G spectrum be pushed into the next fiscal year starting April 1, 2019. However, with the commercial launch of 5G technology slated to be later this year in the US, the DoT officials are of the thought that the delay might cause India to be left behind like it was the case during the launch of 3G and 4G.
A senior official said to ET as “They’re resisting 5G tremendously… rather they should be thinking ahead, if they want to survive. Technology has advanced, and as incumbents, they can beat down on suppliers, negotiate better deals, consolidate and monetise content to prepare for the future.”
On the other hand, there are some vendors like Nokia and Ericsson who are ready for the launch of 5G. Also, various test beds are being set up across the country so that the launch of the fifth-generation high-speed technology can be hastened. The official said, “There are test labs in various Indian Institute of Technology (IITs) in India which can be used for testing out the use cases”.
DoT is working hard for bringing the technology first into the country ahead of others. For this, the department has also set up a 5G panel which has made recommendations regarding the availability of 6000 Mhz spectrum across 11 bands. These bands include the premium 700 MHz band, 3.5 gigahertz (GHz), 24 GHz and 28 GHz band. Also, Arogyaswami Paulraj, a renowned Stanford professor reflected that the launch of 5G in the country would increase the speed of internet data by 50% compared to the present standards. He also added that the technology would have wider implications besides availing internet and would power industries like healthcare, teaching, governance and Internet of Things (IoT) among many.
To initiate the process for 5G spectrum auction, the department is seeking a base price for the airwaves for which it has approached the Indian regulator Trai. However, with no reference price available, whether inside or outside the country the Trai is finding it difficult to mark an appropriate price point for these airwaves. The spectrum awaiting price allocation includes the 5G spectrum in new bands of 3,400-3,600 MHz.
An anonymous official of the DoT said: “We’re looking at different international best practices.” He explained that not all countries are very keen on the adoption of the new technology and that every nation seems to be taking different paths for rolling out the fifth- generation network. He informed that the UK has just held auctions while other countries like Japan intend to divide spectrum between two operators at a fixed price while wanting the telcos to invest heavily in the technology.
This is not the first time that the 700 Mhz band will be up for auction in the country. In the auction held in 2016, the 700 Mhz found no buyers because of its absurdly exorbitant price. The analysts say that the government will have to price the spectrum appropriately if it wants rapid adoption of 5G. The bands of 700 MHz, 800 MHz and 900 MHz remain the top ones in this list of 5G spectrums.
In contrast to DoT’s efforts, the telcos have reasoned that the cutthroat tariff war between the carriers has drained cash flow for the companies. They also added that the ecosystem is not yet developed enough to vouch for the viability of the commercial launch of 5G.
Arpit spends his day closely following the telecom and tech industry. A music connoisseur and a night owl, he also takes a deep interest in the Indian technology start-up scene and spends rest of his time spilling poetry and stories on paper.