Tel­cos to Seek Clar­ity on Lower Spec­trum Band

The Economic Times - - Companies - Anan­dita.Manko­tia @times­group.com

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.

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