New Delhi: The department of telecommunication (DoT) is unlikely to auction spectrum in the E and V bands, and is instead likely to accept the telecom regulator’s recommendations for light-touch regulation to allocate these airwaves, which operators can use to upgrade capacity on their networks, given the surge in data consumption.
“These bands have not been auctioned anywhere in the world...and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has also suggested a light-touch regulation for allocation of these bands," a person with direct knowledge of the matter said requesting anonymity.
Moreover, in the draft of the new communications policy made public on 1 May, DoT said it aims to achieve efficient spectrum utilization and management by promoting the effective utilization of high capacity backhaul E-band and V-band spectrum “in line with international best practices".
Operators use traditional microwave bands for backhauling the mobile traffic generated from each physical site. With increasing data traffic, operators believe traditional microwave is not sufficient to meet backhaul capacity needs and the government should release E band (71-76/81-86 GHz) and V band (57-64 MHz).
Trai, in its recommendations to DoT in 2014, had suggested a fixed fee mechanism to allocate these airwaves. It has said that E band should be charged at Rs10,000 per annum per slot of 250 MHz each, and there should be an initial promotional discount of 50% for three years from the date of allocation of first carrier in this band. For V band, the regulator has recommended a charge of Rs1,000 per annum per slot of 50 MHz each.
“Auction will always be for a given area. For these bands, there can be multiple users in the same area from point to point. Now how do you auction that? Auction is incongruent. Second, there is a huge supply. In one area, thousands of people can use it. Therefore there is no question of somebody bidding high or bidding low," a Trai official said, requesting anonymity, and adding that these bands are crucial to build backhaul capacity for operators who don’t have fibre.
Operators seeking these unallocated airwaves in the higher frequency bands also believe these may not be subject to the Supreme Court order that an open auction is the most transparent method for allocating spectrum.
In 2012, the apex court had cancelled 122 spectrum licences issued on or after 10 January 2008 during the tenure of the then telecom minister A. Raja after finding that their allocation was done in an illegal manner.
“There are grey areas because DoT has not made up its mind on how this spectrum can be used. If these bands can be used as access spectrum then it may have to be auctioned given the court verdict but if DoT establishes that these bands are exclusively for backhaul purposes then auction is not necessary. E and V bands are more amenable for use as backhaul," an industry expert said requesting anonymity.
Given its narrow beam width and short range, airwaves in the E band are ideal for dense mobile infrastructure environment in urban areas over distances of up to 1 km. The V band has high oxygen absorption properties, which results in negligible interference.
However, the Supreme Court order does not distinguish between access spectrum and backhaul spectrum, a legal professional said, requesting anonymity, and adding that “the court had said how spectrum is a public resource and an auction is the best way to allocate it. So this should apply to all spectrum".
The regulator’s recommendations have been pending with government since 2014 but DoT is yet to make up its mind. The Telecom Commission also did not discuss the allocation of these bands in its last meeting on 1 May.
“It is also unlikely to take it (E, V band) up in its upcoming meeting on 29 June, where the commission will look to approve Trai’s suggestions on net neutrality besides the draft of the new communications policy," a senior DoT official said requesting anonymity.