New Delhi: The department of telecommunications (DoT) has written to internet service providers Bharti Airtel Ltd, Reliance Communications Ltd, Tata Communications Ltd and Dishnet Wireless, directing them to vacate spectrum in the 3,300-3,400MHz band by the end of September as the government gears up to conduct an auction of this bandwidth for the first time.

In a letter dated 27 March, DoT said “all existing licencees of spectrum in the 3,300-3,400MHz band are required to vacate the spectrum held by them within six months from the date of issue of this notice". Mint has seen a copy of the letter.

“They may like to migrate to other frequency bands presently being used for providing internet services, viz. 2.7-2.9GHz, 5GHz, etc., and apply to the wireless planning wing (of DoT)," the letter said. No new assignment will be made in the said band and existing licences will not be renewed, the letter added.

While Reliance Communications has wound up its wireless operations, Dishnet Wireless is part of the Aircel group.

“Airtel has already surrendered this spectrum," a company spokesperson said.

Emails sent to Reliance Communications, Tata Communications, Dishnet Wireless were unanswered till press time.

DoT plans to auction spectrum in the 700MHz, 800MHz, 900MHz, 1,800MHz, 2,100MHz, 2,300MHz, 2,500MHz, 3,300-3,400MHz and 3,400-3,600MHz bands in the next auction and had asked the regulator, in a letter dated 19 April 2017, to provide its suggestion on reserve price, quantum of spectrum to be auctioned and associated conditions for auction of spectrum in these bands for all service areas.

The regulator had in August last year issued a consultation paper seeking stakeholder comments on the price and timing of spectrum auction, which was followed by an open house in January this year.

The recommendations of the regulator on reserve price of spectrum and timing of auction are awaited.

At present, in India, spectrum in the 3,300-3,400MHz band has been assigned to various internet service providers in various districts of a service area.

Their assignments are being renewed on an annual basis. Once existing operators shift to other bands, it is expected that the entire band will be made available for telecom services.

Moreover, the 3,300-3,400 MHz portion of spectrum has already been identified for international mobile telecommunication in 45 countries, including India. The 3,300 MHz band is expected to be the first 5G band deployed globally.

“This letter shows the seriousness with which the DoT wants to auction spectrum for 5G despite the worries over the financial health of the industry and operators asking for more time before conducting an auction," a telecom expert said on condition of anonymity.

In 2016, the government had raised Rs65,789 crore in revenue through spectrum sale, a fraction of the total value of Rs5.63 trillion of spectrum at base price put up for sale.

While the total spectrum put up for sale was 2,354.44MHz across seven bands, the total spectrum sold was 965 MHz. There were no buyers for spectrum in the 700MHz band as operators thought it was priced too high.

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