New Delhi: The Indian Air Force, or IAF, and other military wings could vacate part of the radio frequency, or airwaves used for mobile services, by March 2009, potentially allowing the government to complete the auction of spectrum rights to firms that want to launch so-called 3G, or third generation mobile phone services, this fiscal year itself.
The department of telecommunications, or DoT, expects the defence forces to vacate at least 25MHz of radio frequency by March.
DoT’s expectation, outlined recently in a presentation to the Planning Commission by telecom secretary Siddartha Behura, is based on an assurance that state-owned phone firm Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, or BSNL, will build an optical fibre-based network for the defence forces for their communications needs before the end of fiscal 2009.
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A 3G mobile phone service allows customers to surf the Internet or download content, including music and video, at speeds faster than current technologies.
The government expects to finalize terms of auctioning five 3G phone service licences by October.
Researcher Gartner Inc. projects India’s mobile phone customer base, at some 290 million today, to expand to 720 million by 2012; one in five such users are are expected to use 3G mobile phones.
Behura said the office of national security advisor (NSA) M.K. Narayanan is studying the issue of defence forces vacating spectrum.
“The NSA will decide on the quantum of spectrum available. We will see what can be used in different circles, and make it available (for telecom services),” he said, adding that DoT is yet to work on allocation of spectrum in each licensed area.
Narayanan could not be immediately reached for comment. Air force spokesman S.M. Sharma, who was contacted on Friday evening, said he needed more time to return with a comment.
In the past, the government missed at least two deadlines it had set for itself for the air force and other defence forces to vacate spectrum. Telecom experts argue that the defence sector does not utilize spectrum efficiently and it would be best served by an alternate secure network based on optical fibre.
In the Planning Commission presentation, made to deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Behura said that 80% to 85% spectrum to be freed up is with the air force and the NSA’s office was overseeing the handover of rights to use the frequency.
In return, the air force, army and navy will be handed over the optical fibre-based network, which BSNL has been tasked to build at a cost of Rs1,050 crore.
In a related decision, DoT on Friday announced the constitution of an inter-ministerial committee to guide and supervise the process of auction of spectrum for 3G and so-called broadband wireless access services.
R. Ashok, member (finance) of the Telecom Commission, the apex administrative body at DoT, will be chairman of the seven-member panel. It will have representation from the department of information technology, industrial policy and promotion, and economic affairs—all at the level of at least joint secretaries to the government.
Other members include Ashok Chandra, joint wireless adviser, DoT; and A.K. Srivastava, a deputy director general at the department. J.S. Deepak, joint secretary, DoT, will be the member-secretary in the committee.
According to terms of reference of this committee, the members will finalize auction details and facilitate selection of an agency for conducting electronic auction of spectrum, as planned by DoT.
If the government can indeed raise the expected Rs40,000 crore in 3G auctions this fiscal year, it will help New Delhi reduce its revenue deficit by nearly 75% at the current year’s targeted revenue shortfall of Rs55,184 crore.
An expert said the vacation of spectrum by defence forces would be an important milestone for 3G services in India. “The more spectrum the defence forces are able to vacate, (it) will be more positive for India. However, it also depends on when and what levels of control the defence forces get,” said Kunal Bajaj, managing director of consultant BDA Connect Pvt. Ltd.
Global firms such as AT&T Inc., Deutsche Telekom AG and NTT DoCoMo Inc. have expressed interest in entering India. Market leaders Bharti Airtel Ltd and Reliance Communications Ltd have also said they are ready with their 3G plans.