NEW DELHI : India’s telecom operators and Doordarshan have locked horns over a premium band of spectrum that the public broadcaster wants to retain for telecasting directly to phones, but the telcos feel can be put to better use in 5G telecommunications.

India, which has already marked out the 3.3-3.6GHz band for 5G services, is trying to identify more spectrum bands for the same, and has zeroed in on the 470-698 MHz band. However, the state broadcaster currently beams television channels to smartphones and laptops over this spectrum in 16 cities with its Digital Terrestrial TV (DTT) transmitters. The DTT service was started in 2016, and Doordarshan is keen on expanding it to 630 locations.

At the same time, telcos covet lower frequency bands such as this, since these airwaves travel larger distances and save on the cost of towers and other infrastructure.

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has now asked the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) to submit its views on the suggested use and pricing of these airwaves, which have not been used for mobile communications so far. This follows a 4 July meeting of DoT’s 5G Implementation Oversight Committee, which was also attended by officials from DoT and academics. Mint has seen a copy of the minutes of the meeting. Auctions for 5G spectrum are expected to be held later this year.

“These bands can be used for 5G. It is being used for broadcasting (Doordarshan) but now everyone is going digital. There is opportunity to take these (airwaves) back as other countries are doing...As broadcasting goes digital, more and more spectrum will become available and globally, people are saying that use it for the next big demand factor, which is mobility," COAI director general Rajan Mathews said.

COAI has now started compiling a paper on how these bands are being utilized globally and their pricing. The industry body will submit these findings to the telecom regulator.

“Doordarshan wants to do digital terrestrial operations and wants to retain spectrum in this band for future use," a person aware of the matter said, requesting anonymity.

Emails sent to Doordarshan and DoT remained unanswered till press time.

“When we raised this issue (with DoT) we said that increasingly, these bands are either being squatted on, utilized by others, are not inefficiently utilised or mis-priced, and at the end of the day, you are putting the whole 5G expansion at risk," Mathews said.

DoT is currently finalizing the roadmap for 5G, which is set to boost data speeds and Internet of Things (IoT), resulting in industry-altering changes for agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare, and education.

So far, the only band identified for 5G spectrum in India is under the 3.3-3.6GHz band, which has 300MHz of airwaves available.

Of this, the defence department has sought 100MHz to boost coastal security while the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) wants 25MHz for satellite-based navigation services.

If these requests are granted by the government, it would leave just 175MHz for telcos, which are now requesting DoT to make more spectrum available.

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