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NEW DELHI :  

The debut of 5G networks is expected to pose a challenge to India’s net neutrality rules as telcom operators set their eyes on so-called network slicing.

Slicing effectively means giving preferential or differential treatment to a select set of customers in terms of cost or speed. However, the move would breach the government’s net neutrality rules that do not permit such experiences.

Carriers may therefore seek regulatory intervention to carve out or exempt services for, say, business-to-business connections or those provided to enterprises to offer high-speed, lower-latency services, said industry experts.

“Slicing and edge computing provide a differential experience in terms of technology and costing, and 5G has a different economic value attached to it versus 4G. So, both these elements put together call for a relook at the net neutrality rules or change in policy or regulation such that slicing can be permitted," said S.P. Kochhar, director general of Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which represents all telcos including Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea.

He said that the differentiated services were akin to providing business-to-business services, which are separate from business-to-consumer services offered by telecos, and therefore can be exempted from net neutrality laws.

“Regulation should keep up with technology to avoid litigation," he noted.

Telcos have yet to raise the issue with the government or the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), which had recommended the net neutrality rules in 2018, and were subsequently incorporated into the licence agreements of carriers.

The rules prohibit telcos, internet service providers and others from blocking, slowing or giving preferential speeds or treatment to content on their networks.

The rules also prohibit telcos or social media companies from offering zero-rated services or sponsored platforms, which can ride on the networks but are offered free to users, effectively stifling competition.

A multi-stakeholder body would be set up to monitor net neutrality compliance and ascertain exemptions, while the government will set traffic management practices, which are yet to be put in place, the rules further stated.

According to sector analysts, carriers are testing use cases requiring dedicated bandwidth or slice of the network.

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