In a development that could constrain the growth of mobile telcos and delay their entry into data-rich third-generation (3G) networks, the Union government’s department of telecom (DoT) is not having much luck getting the country’s armed forces to vacate large areas of spectrum (frequency).
Last week, the communication ministry’s wireless planning and coordination wing (WPC), which assigns spectrum, briefed officials at DoT as well as communications minister Dayanidhi Maran on the success of its attempts to get the armed forces to vacate spectrum that they had traditionally occupied.
That wasn’t a problem in the days when the country didn’t have wireless telephony services. Now, with 160 million subscribers, India is one of the fastest-growing telecom markets in the world; its telcos want to offer 3G services; and there isn’t enough spectrum going around.
“All that can be said at this stage is that we are trying our best to have a 3G spectrum policy soon, so that the telcos can start the service by the second half of 2007 as stated by the minister,” said an official at DoT, who did not wish to be identified.
Last year, in a bid to get the armed forces to vacate spectrum, DoT started building a Rs1,000 crore optical fibre cable network that they could move to, vacating spectrum for mobile telcos.
Now, the ministry of defence is understood to have told DoT that the network, built by state-owned telcos—Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd—,is not secure. The security requirements laid down by the ministry of defence will increase the cost of the cable network by Rs2,700 crore. DoT is yet to decide on who will bear this cost.
Meanwhile, the Central Vigilance Commission has raised several questions about the awarding of contracts for the completion of the optical fibre network, and this could cause further delay. And a group of ministers that is to address the issue hasn’t met even once.
The delay will mean that 3G services, which were to be launched in the second half of 2007, will now be launched only in early 2008. Sources in DoT, who did not wish to be identified, said the armed forces are not very keen to vacate spectrum. They said the armed forces were pointing out that other countries have separate radio frequencies for commercial and defence use, and that there was no such demarcation in India.
To make 3G spectrum available, the armed forces are to give up 45Mhz of spectrum by the end of the year in the 1800-1900 Mhz band.