New Delhi: The Digital Communications Commission (DCC) will meet on Thursday to deliberate on a roadmap to roll out the next generation of wireless technology 5G, and to auction airwaves this year. The panel will also review the government’s plan to roll out public wifi hotspots.

The panel, which comprises officials from the departments of telecommunications, electronics and information technology, revenue and think tank NITI Aayog, will review the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s pending suggestions on conducting the upcoming auctions, India’s first for 5G airwaves.

Trai had first sent its suggestions in August last year and stood by its spectrum pricing proposal again in July this year after the panel urged it to take a relook.

5G will lead to much higher data speeds and propel Internet of Things, which will transform sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare and education.

The government did not auction any spectrum in fiscals 2017-18 and 2018-19. In 2016-17, the government had raised 65,789 crore through spectrum sale, a fraction of the 5.63 trillion worth of spectrum, at base price, it had put up for sale. While the total spectrum put up for sale was 2,354.44MHz across seven bands, the government managed to auction just 965MHz.

Operators which have been complaining of high reserve prices set by Trai are hoping that the panel may decide to lower 5G spectrum prices.

The telecom regulator in July this year said it would stick to its earlier stand on the pricing for next spectrum auctions, as it believes that the auction is an open process and players other than existing licencees could also participate.

This had caused a setback to debt laden telcos which have been clamouring for lower spectrum prices.

The regulator’s response had come after the panel in July sought a comprehensive review of the Trai’s recommendations. The government’s call to review came with an aim to to ensure greater competition, sale of all spectrum on offer, and bringing the benefits of 5G to social sectors.

In August last year, Trai had said the 3,300-3,600 MHz band, expected to be the primary band for 5G services, should be auctioned as a single band and in blocks of 20MHz each at 492 crore per megahertz.

While Bharti Airtel Ltd has said these prices are exorbitant and it would not participate in an auction held at these prices, Vodafone Idea Ltd suggested the 5G auction take place in 2020. In South Korea, the same band was priced at roughly 131 crore per megahertz in auctions held in June last year.

The sector has seen intense disruption after Jio’s entry in September 2016 brought down data prices to rock bottom and made voice calls free. This forced other operators to match tariffs and many shut shop or were acquired by bigger players. Now, just Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea are left to compete with Jio.

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