New Delhi: The ministry of defence and the department of telecommunications (DoT) have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to free radio spectrum by the defence forces over the next three years.
Radio spectrum, an increasingly scarce resource, is the carrier of voice signals between wireless devices such as cellphones. An MoU is an expression of intent of the signatories and not a binding document to execute.
The MoU, signed on 22 May, follows at least two years of negotiations. It entails vacation of spectrum by the defence forces once DoT builds an alternative optical fibre cable (OFC) network for them.
The defence forces are major users of spectrum due to the mobile nature of military operations. The rapid growth of mobile telephony users in India has led to the demand for spectrum increasing exponentially. This had led to the government studying various methods to get the defence forces to vacate spectrum.
DoT has asked state-run telecom operators Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL) to build OFC, the cost of which will be reimbursed by the department.
“We have signed the MoU on May 22. The defence forces are expected to vacate the spectrum within the next three years in a phased manner as prescribed in the MoU,” a senior DoT official said asking not to be named as he is not authorized to speak to the media.
“The defence forces have more than 40% of the spectrum that has been mandated for commercial mobile usage,” another official in the wireless planning and coordination division of DoT said, also requesting anonymity.
India is the fastest growing mobile telephony market in the world adding at least 10 million new mobile subscribers every month.
In a bid to keep up with the demand for spectrum, which is a limited natural resource, MoD has agreed to shift part of its operations that run on spectrum to OFC to be built by BSNL and MTNL. The vacation will be done over a period of 37 months, according to the MoU.
BSNL and MTNL have already been building an OFC for the Indian Air Force at an estimated cost of Rs1,077 crore, which will be reimbursed by DoT. The air force will then vacate around around 42.5MHz of spectrum. OFC for the army and navy will be built over the next 37 months by BSNL, according to a timeline prescribed in the MoU, which entails the finalization of tenders for equipment vendors within seven months of signing of the MoU.
OFC for the army and navy is expected to cost Rs8,893 crore. The proposals for the amount to be paid to BSNL by DoT for building the OFC have to be approved by the cabinet committee on economic affairs.
The state-run telcos will lay a total of 40,000km of optical fibre to connect 219 army stations, 33 navy stations and 162 air force stations across the country as part of OFC.
In April, DoT had reviewed the terms of MoU and sent it to the defence ministry for approval. According to the MoU, the defence forces will vacate 15MHz of spectrum within a few days. Of this, 10MHz will be used for 3G services and will be auctioned while 5MHz will be used for 2G services.
Once the OFC is up and running, the defence forces would have vacated around 45MHz of spectrum, of which 25MHz is 3G spectrum.