End could be in sight for the tussle over spectrum
New Delhi: The tussle for wireless spectrum, both for existing voice services and yet to be started mobile data services and wireless broadband, has entered the final lap, according to a top functionary of the ministry of communications and information technology (IT), which allocates the resource to different users. The department of telecom (DoT) has asked the ministry of defence (MoD), which is in the process of vacating 45 megahertz (MHz, which are units of spectrum), to surrender the major chunk immediately or pay usage charges of some Rs6,000 crore.
“It (MoD) is insisting on releasing the entire 45MHz at one go...and we are telling them to release the 42.5MHz first and the remaining 2.5MHz later," said the official, who declined to be identified as negotiations with MoD were still on. Of the 45MHz, 25MHz in the 2,100MHz band is required to be clubbed with the current available 35MHz for starting data-enabled cellular services, while the remaining 20MHz (in the 1,800MHz band) is to be allocated to existing and new GSM cellular networks to improve their voice services.
DoT is putting up a fibre optic link stretching around 8,000km to meet the communications needs of the three wings of the armed forces—the Army, Navy and Air Force—but only a Rs900 crore network for connecting the Air Force command centres will be ready in two weeks. The network will be ready before the other two as the Air Force has granted DoT permission to re-use existing fibre network of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd.
While DoT wants MoD to release the 42.5MHz as soon as the Air Force moves on to the fibre link later this month, the latter, the official said, wants DoT to put up an independent fibre network for the Army and the Navy before releasing any spectrum. The new network, however, is expected to cost in excess of Rs3,000 crore and will take months to be ready. If usage charges for the said spectrum are levied, it may add up to Rs6,000 crore.
Defence ministry spokesman Sudhanshu Kar declined comment, saying DoT-MoD talks were on.
Communications and IT minister A. Raja “will meet the defence minister A.K. Antony and Pranab Mukherjee (the chairman of the group of ministers on spectrum utilization) next week for negotiations and we expect headway to be made during that meeting. If not, the matter will go before the group of ministers by the end of the month", the official added.
As part of its efforts to spread cellular and wireless connectivity, DoT is trying to get back spectrum from government agencies in three bands: in 1,800MHz band for GSM voice communications, in 2,100MHz band for cellular data services and in 2,500MHz band for wireless broadband services. While the first two are with MoD, the third band is in use by the department of space. “In all, we expect 2G (voice) spectrum, 3G (data) spectrum and Wimax (wireless broadband spectrum) to be available, maximum by December," he added.
It is almost 11 months since the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India suggested an allocation strategy for starting cellular data and wireless broadband services. Though an internal DoT committee finalized a scheme for the allocation of spectrum for these services more than a month ago, the communications and IT minister is yet to announce it due to the uncertainty over the availability of the spectrum to be redistributed.
Also, on the subject of spectrum, the official said a decision on whether to auction the 20MHz of voice spectrum for existing cellular operators or not would be taken after the telecom regulator’s comments on the issue, together with recommendations on merger and acquisition rules in the telecom sector, are received in the coming weeks.
The official also said the ministry has written to the finance ministry requesting a 10-year extension to the ongoing 10-year tax holiday for the software sector, due to come to an end in 2009.
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