RoW Rules Silent on Deployment of Small Cells in India: COAI DG, SP Kochhar

Small cells are going to make a huge difference when it comes to 5G rollout in India. It won’t just help with 5G, but also the 4G expansion. Adopting simplified and streamlined procedures for building/street furniture permits for small cells based on standardised size, installation requirements and radio characteristics is important, says Dr SP Kochhar, DG, COAI.


  • COAI has asked for the E & V bands (which provides capacity akin to fiber in the air) be allocated for the backhaul services for Small Cells.
  • Small cells are low-powered cellular radio that has a range of 10 meters to a few kilometres.
  • They will help the TSPs and Citizens by to alleviate the load on microcells by augmenting the network capacity and to provide extended coverage.

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A report was launched on Paving the way for 5G readiness in India: A guide for effective policymaking on small cell deployment at a virtual webinar organised by the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) and GSMA today. Granting easy access to existing street furniture such as traffic lights, bus stops, street lamps, EB Power supply etc., is important to deploy 5G services in India, says SP Kochhar, DG, COAI.

Q1) Why Small Cells?

Small cells are low-powered cellular radio that has a range of 10 metres to a few kilometres. Small cells can be used to provide in-building and outdoor wireless service. Mobile operators use them to extend their service coverage and/or increase network capacity.

  • Offloading: The Macro site of the area is getting congested and is unable to serve the entire community of the area.
  • Capacity used: Shared Capacity: - The site serving the building/area is unable to meet the capacity of the part of the building/spot.
  • Low Coverage of Signal: Higher spectrum band.
  • Indoor Coverage: In-building solution essential for indoor coverage, including the basement.

Q2) How Will the Small Cells Will be Beneficial for the TSPs & Citizens of India?

Small cells are low-powered cellular radio that has a range of 10 metres to a few kilometres. Small cells can be used to provide in-building and outdoor wireless service. Mobile operators use them to extend their service coverage and satisfy the appetite for more data speeds, and capacity is driven by consumers and businesses.

They will help the TSPs and citizens by to alleviate the load on microcells by augmenting the network capacity and to provide extended coverage. Secondly, to serve more users, particularly in a densely populated country like India and also maintain multi-gigabit performance, particularly in hotspots such as shopping centres, transport hubs, public facilities, and stadiums. It will provide good Quality of Service to the users.

Q3) What Are Key Issues w.r.t Deployment of the Small cells in the Country?

  1. The present rules on the right of way are silent on small cell deployment and access to street furniture.
  2. Lack of availability of backhaul. There is a shortage of adequate backhaul and at reasonable costs which throws up significant challenges in deployment.
  3. Lack of electrical power supply. Permits from electricity boards are a challenge. Additionally, street furniture needs power back-ups.
  4. Non-uniform implementation of RoW rules by states and municipal bodies. The RoW rules have yet to be implemented by all states, union territories and municipal bodies. Many of them continue to impose their own costs and approval frameworks which are on the higher side.
  5. High RoW Related Charges for using the Street Furniture, deployment of Small cells and fibre. High restoration Charges
    challenging to get access to adequate street furniture for deployment.
  6. Online Portal is yet not available in all the States, leading to delays.
  7. Restrictions on the installation of towers/Small cells near educational institutes, hospitals, airports, Defence establishments, religious places etc.
  8. Lack of support from enforcement agencies like police dept. in dealing with public issues including EMF.
  9. Permissions from several authorities including electricity, gas, sewerage, Railways, NHAI, forest authority causing delays and cost inefficiencies.
  10. Permission/ approvals are kept pending, which can result in coercive action like demolition/ sealing.
  11. Many states still do not have to enable provisions for using the Street Furnitures such as EB/LT Poles, Street Light Poles etc.

Q4) What Are Key Requests of the Industry w.r.t Deployment of Small Cells?

The following suggestions may be considered to facilitate the deployment of small cells in India:

  1. Adopting simplified and streamlined procedures for building/street furniture permits for small cells based on standardised size, installation requirements and radio characteristics.
  2. Updating the Right of Way Rules, 2016 to include deployment of small cells.
  3. Ensuring uniform implementation of the Right of Way Rules, 2016 by all the states and union territories.
  4. Reducing admin and other Charges for small cells deployment and for laying the fibre.
  5. Designing guidelines to facilitate the acquisition of new sites and greater transparency on available assets such as towers, buildings and other structures.
  6. Granting easy access to existing street furniture such as traffic lights, bus stops, street lamps, EB Power supply etc.
    State electricity boards /distribution companies to ease permits for usage of their poles for deployment.
  7. Exempting small cell installations from location registration requirements unless necessary for other reasons.
  8. Implementing uniformity in the grant of access to public spaces/ structures for installing small cells across the state and the local bodies.
  9. Facilitating the deployment of backhaul and at lower costs.
  10. Ensuring access to spectrum and provision of adequate spectrum bands for backhaul with wider channel sizes in millimetre wave (e.g. E & V Band) to augment capacities and improve site planning.

Q5) How Do You See the Coordination Under the Gati Shakti Initiative Among Various Government Departments for the Deployment of Telecom Infrastructure?

We are of the view that the Gati Shakti is a very important initiative that will help in rolling out various infrastructure projects, not only particularly for the telecom sector but also for other sectors as well.

In rolling out the telecom infrastructure permissions are generally required from various agencies such as Municipalities at the State level, Central agencies like Ministry of Forest, NHAI, MoD, AAI, Metro, railways, MoUD etc. Close coordination between various such agencies /Government departments is key to expedite the permissions and early roll-out of Infrastructure.

Q6) What Will Be the Impact of the EMF Exposure Due to the Deployment of the Small Cells?

Typically, small cells have a relatively small coverage footprint and operate with aggressive interference management and energy-saving mechanisms (e.g. putting idle small cells to sleep). All these factors mean that small cells usually operate well below their peak transmit powers. Therefore, RM-EMF compliance boundaries typically evaluated based on peak transmit powers create overly conservative RF-EMF limits that constrain the density of small cell deployments. For facilitating the network densification, we suggest that the EMF exposure levels recently reviewed and issued by ICNIRP in 2020 be adopted in India.

Ensuring Compliance with EMR guidelines Conservative RF-EMF Exposure Limits: The requirement for compliance assessment of small cells in terms of RF-EMF exposure limits may present one of the most significant barriers for rapid and sustainable network densification. This is due to the relatively larger number of small cell sites (both outdoor and indoor) that may need to undergo the assessment.

Q7) What are spectrum bands to be used for small cells?

Typical 5G spectrum, i.e. C band (3.5 - 4.2 GHz) and Millimetre wavebands (26 GHz, 28 GHz, etc.)

Q8) Your Thoughts on Addressing Backhaul Connectivity for Small Cells?

Back Haul Connectivity – OFC, Microwave, etc

5G is expected to provide “4A- anytime, anywhere, anyone, anything” connectivity, which will take mobile data speeds to new limits and will support an immense increase in connections. However, a good 5G network cannot be expected unless a high capacity backhaul is not in place.

Optical fiber: Today’s backhaul relies either on optical fibre or microwave radio links. Fibre has limitless capacity but pulling fibre to every cell site is practically not feasible due to cost, time and logistical challenges.

Microwave: In comparison to fibre, the microwave is a cheaper, scalable option and can be deployed quickly. Moreover, the capacity of microwave link has evolved gradually over the years to meet the demand of the new generations of networks. Throughputs of 1-10 Gbps in microwave backhaul are now a reality.

E & V band: Conventionally, microwave backhaul has used frequencies from the range of 6 GHz to 42 GHz. Regulators around the world are opening higher frequency bands, such as V-band (60 GHz) and E-band (70/80 GHz), to satisfy the high-capacity backhaul requirements of future networks. According to Ericsson32, E-band will satisfy the high-capacity demands of today’s networks. Moreover, it will be suitable during the coming years when 5G is rolled out.

Thus, it is suggested that E & V band (which provides capacity akin to fiber in the air) should be allocated for the backhaul services for Small Cells. (No comments on auction or no allocation with an auction for spectrum)

Q9) Please Indicate the International Best Practices for Deploying Small Cells?

Internationally, a lot of work is being done to address the small cell deployment-related issues and foster 5G development. Some of the best practices are as given below:

Hong Kong: As facilitating measures for 5G deployment, the Office of the Communications Authority, Hong Kong, issued guidelines on the use of street furniture such as sheltered bus stops, public payphone kiosks and smart lampposts for installation of 5G Radio Base Stations in 2019-2020.

Japan: In Japan, operators are permitted to install 5G base stations on 208,000 traffic lights across the country. Moreover, the

The Japanese government has proposed that the costs of using the traffic lights for 5G deployments be shared between operators and local administrations.

EU: In 2020, the EU Commission released its implementing regulation on small-area wireless access points. The Regulation provides for the following:

  1. Specifies the physical and technical characteristics of small cells for 5G networks;
  2. Aims to help simplify and accelerate 5G network installations, which should be facilitated through a permit-exempt deployment regime, while ensuring that national authorities keep oversight.
  3. Lays out the specifications for a coherent and integrated installation, while providing national authorities with the means to oversee deployment of small cells.
  4. Provides that small antenna should be exempted from any individual town planning permit or other individual prior permits.
  5. Allows for broader national measures in support of straightforward small cell deployment.

Egypt: In Egypt, no building permits are required for small cell deployments. The only regulatory approval required after installation is the measurement of RF exposure. This occurs only once for the lifetime of the site, whereas for a macro cell, inspections are conducted at least every two years.

Singapore: The Singapore regulator Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) provides a Code of Practice for Info-communications Facilities in Buildings (COPIF) specifying the duties of building owners and developers to provide adequate space, facilities, and access for telecom licensees to provide their services. These are typically the rooftop spaces reserved for telecom equipment to be provided to network operators by building developers and owners at no additional cost.

UK: The UK’s Electronic Communications Code facilitates operators’ access to macro and small cell infrastructure on public and private land.

Australia: In Australia, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and the Department of Communications has put policies to facilitate small cell deployments, including reductions in planning requirements for small cell deployments in the public space and the removal of barriers between license types to facilitate the re-allocation of incumbent spectrum holders.

United States of America: In 2018, the FCC issued guidelines that covers fees, aesthetics, and shot clocks requirements etc. Under this, state/local fees was rationalised, and state and local governments have 60 days to decide applications for existing infrastructure and 90 days for all other small cell wireless applications.

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