Telcos to Seek Clarity on Lower Spectrum Band
New Delhi: The 700 MHz spectrum auction in July may be given a miss by India’s top telcos if the telecom ministry decides to leave airwaves in the 470-698 MHz band unlicensed and thus free of charge.
The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) will soon write to the government, seeking clarity on whether it will keep the 470-698 MHz band unlicensed for deploying Wi-Fi. It does not make business sense for operators to pay hefty sums for the higher band if they can get the 470-698 MHz spectrum’s excellent propagation characteristics for free. The lower band would be much more cost-efficient since the government is pricing1MHz in the higher band at a staggering .₹ 11,485 crore — a record for airwaves. Owing to high spectral efficiency of 700 MHz, the price is four times the rate of spectrum in the1800 MHz band. “Why would anyone pay such a price for a band (of 700 MHz) when a lower band is being given away for free?” said Rajan Mathews, director general of COAI. “The problem is that the government has permitted trials in the band right under 700 MHz for various Wi-Fi technologies in order to find the best way for last-mile broadband connectivity through the Bharat Broadband network (BBNL).” COAI represents GSM operators such as Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular, the country’s top three carriers.
“Some potential new players are advocating for this band to be unlicensed so it may be used for Wi-Fi,” said Mathews, without taking any names. “The telecom department (DoT) must intimate this before it decides on auctioning any airwaves in 700 MHz.” The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) will soon float a consultation paper to promote public Wi-Fi and stitch up rural connectivity for Digital India.
Global giants such as Google (through balloons), Microsoft (via television white space) and Facebook (through drones) have evinced interest in deploying their technologies for last mile broadband connectivity. They want to partner the government in its ambitious Digital India project to connect households at the village level once optic fibre has been laid till the gram panchayat.