India’s telecom operators and the national space agency have locked horns over a new and premium band of spectrum in the 26 GHz band that could be deployed for next-generation 5G technology, ahead of a key global meet in Egypt next month.
This rift puts another spanner in India’s 5G dreams given that telcos have already complained of high reserve prices proposed by the telecom regulator for the first identified band 3.3-3.6 GHz, in addition to their massive debt pile.
Telcos have argued that Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) has convinced the government team tasked with India’s submission for the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) to suggest conditions over antenna tilting and power radiation norms for 26 GHz band which will make it very tedious for private operators to bid for the band and also push up costs.
“Despite deliberations between the DoT and department of space, it seems like the latter’s position has been given the upper hand (in India’s submission to the International Telecommunication Union). The final outcome is not good for the mobile industry," a senior official at a leading telecom gear maker said, requesting anonymity.
“This effectively means that in addition to existing spectrum put for auction (3.3-3.6 GHz), there are no other International Mobile Telecommunications bands left for 5G in future in India... 5G in India in mmWave (higher frequency wave) will become a question mark," the official said.
India has 3.25 GHz spectrum available in the 26 GHz band which both Isro and telcos are eyeing. Isro wants to use this for weather satellites while telcos claim the band is ideal for 5G.
To be sure, India earlier this week made its submission to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for WRC next month. ITU is a specialized agency of the United Nations that is responsible for issues that concern information and communication technologies.
India’s submission sets limits on 5G base station’s total radiated power of seven-decibel watt per 200 MHz bandwidth which is equal to 5 watt effectively. It also states that antenna tilt must be greater than 10 degrees and always facing down.
“When deploying outdoor base stations, it shall be ensured that each antenna normally transmits only with the main beam pointing below the horizon and the antenna shall have mechanical pointing below the horizon except when the base station is only receiving," India’s submission to the ITU said. Mint has seen a copy of these submissions.
Simply put, the condition on radiated power is bad news for operators as they would need to set up more towers to carry the beam. Plus, the tilting conditions would make it difficult to elevate beams to adjacent buildings. Telecom operators currently tilt antennas at seven degrees right to ensure signals are beamed properly given the curvature of the earth.
“If you are asked to propagate at 5 watts and you need 20 watts to push that beam over 200 megahertz of spectrum...then you don’t get as much coverage and you will have to set up more towers to beam that, which increases capex burden on telcos," COAI director general Rajan Mathews said.
“OEMs will manufacture equipment with international standards in mind. If Indian standards are different, then you will find that 5G is a non-starter," Mathews said.
Emails sent to DoT and Isro seeking comment were unanswered till press time.