‘Lack’ of spectrum major issue before 5G rollout (IANS Exclusive Part-2)

As the stage is almost set for selective rollout of 5G (fifth generation) mobile network technology in India by 2021-end, the Telecom Ministry is facing insufficiency of spectrum with the defence and space sectors seeking nearly half of the spectrum.

Of the 300 megahertz which are available, 25 megahertz are required for certain satellite uses by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and 100 megahertz is wanted by the defence sector.

If these 125 megahertz are deducted from the available spectrum, only 175 megahertz will be available with the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), under the Telecom Ministry, to divide it among three present operators.

However, DoT has been addressing the issue of “lack of spectrum” and deliberating with Department of Space (DoS) and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for making sufficient spectrum available for 5G IMT (International Mobile Telecommunications) services.

“In so far as the spectrum availability is concerned, typically, we are talking of 5G spectrum as the band which is between 3.3 and 3.6 gigahertz. Of these 300 megahertz, which are available, 25 are required for certain satellite uses,” a written note by DoT Secretary to a parliamentary committee clarifies.

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), which is the regulator of the telecommunications sector in India, has also said that ISRO should be given 25 megahertz with “a suggestion for beyond the footprint of the use”.

Now, the official said out of balance 275 megahertz, about 100 megahertz — between 3.3 and 3.4 gigahertz — is wanted by defence sector.

“We are having discussions with them. Two meetings have been held. A very positive response has come. I am sure this issue will be resolved. If this is deducted, then 175 megahertz are available to us,” the DoT Secretary stated.

The official said “Ideally we should have about 300 megahertz. We are also trying to see if we can get a little more, that is, beyond 3.6 gigahertz.”

“There we have a problem, because that is already committed for satellite usage. There is also millimetre wave, which has not yet gone to TRAI for recommendations.”

The DoT official also said that the auction, right now, is not thought of as no recommendation has come.

“There will be a consultation process. So, I would like to assure the committee that we will take a balanced view and a holistic view and see how best the interests of the industry, consumers and the public which is prime and supreme is balanced and then we will act accordingly.”

Explaining the impact of allocating less amount of spectrum, the parliamentary committee had stated that the 3.5 gigahertz of spectrum, which we call as sub-6 band in 5G, almost every operator across the globe has 100 megahertz of it.

“There are some exceptions with 80 megahertz of it. But if we go lower than that, there is equipment on which we will spend billions of dollars, it would be a severe underutilisation of that,” said the committee.

“It is like buying a car and using it with one particular seat because the other three seats are not available. The equipment itself will be severely underutilised.”

(Rajnish Singh can be contacted at rajnish.s@ians.in)