Under an agreement between the Telecom Ministry and Defence Ministry, the latter had agreed to vacate airwaves in the 2100MHz band for being auctioned by the Department of Telecommunications for commercial deployment of 3G services. In 2010, the Defence Ministry had vacated 20MHz of spectrum in 17 circles and 25MHz of spectrum in 5 circles in the 2100MHz band. Out of this, one block of 5MHz was reserved on Pan-India scale for state-run BSNL and MTNL and the remaining 3 blocks in 17 circles and 4 blocks in 5 circles was auctioned for the private operators.
The 5 circles of Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, West Bengal, and Bihar have BSNL along with 4 private operators offering 3G services, while the remaining circles have BSNL or MTNL along with 3 private operators offering 3G services. Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, and Orissa, each has one private operator less since the spectrum held by STel does not have any commercial 3G operations currently.
The Defence Ministry has now agreed to release one slot of fresh 5MHz spectrum in the remaining 17 circles where it had previously released only 20MHz of spectrum, thus bringing the total to 25MHz Pan India. The government plans to auction this one block of 5MHz in 2100MHz band along with the 800, 900, 1800MHz band auctions in Feb 2015. This implies that we could have one new 3G operator in these 17 circles. Currently Airtel, Vodafone and Idea offer 3G services Pan-India through Interconnect Connect Roaming Agreements (ICRA). Reliance, Tata Docomo, and Aircel also have ICRA covering most circles.
The Telecom Ministry is also in advanced stages of talks with the defence ministry to work out a spectrum swap deal where the defence ministry would vacate additional 3 blocks of 5MHz each in the 2100MHz band Pan-India in exchange for 15MHz spectrum in 1900MHz band currently held by the Telecom Ministry. This additional spectrum is sufficient to allow the entry of 3 new operators in all telecom circles. If this deal is successful, we could see another round of 3G auctions in May 2015.
Esmail is our very own in-house spectrum specialist. He is passionate about Telecom, DTH and OTT video streaming apps. When not writing an article, you can find him binge watching shows on Netflix while sipping on a cup of coffee.