18 May Telcos want free 5G bandwidth to beef up wireline connectivity
New Delhi: Telecom companies have urged the government to allot necessary 5G bandwidth for free to augment wireline connectivity in the wake of a surge in demand for data and voice services amid the lockdown forced by Covid-19. Bharti Infratel chairman Akhil Gupta said given the capacity constraints in 4G cellular networks “the government should provide the necessary and requisite bandwidth under 5G in the 3500 MHz free of cost to the four service providers”. Speaking at a digital round-table discussion organised by ET Telecom, Gupta said such a move would augment high-bandwidth connectivity through fixed telephony at homes. Bharti Infratel is a telecom infrastructure company of Bharti Enterprises, which also runs Bharti Airtel.
Prashant Singhal, emerging markets TMT leader at EY, said allocation of sub-3500 MHz 5G spectrum free of cost can help bring “infrastructure, which is affordable for people at large”. “It is important that the ecosystem comes together to provide digital infrastructure Indians need in this new world,” he said. The comments come in the backdrop of the industry terming the government’s starting price of 5G airwaves in the 3300-3600 MHz band — ₹492 crore per unit — for the next cellular bandwidth auctions “too expensive”.
Trai, which has rejected all such criticism of the 5G base price, though backed the need for beefing up wireline networks, saying increased fiberisation could manage the growing bandwidth demand in the country. India’s wireline penetration currently stands at 1.53% compared with over 85% for mobile phones, according to Trai data.
“Bandwidth utilisation is going to increase and that can be managed by having more fiberisation,” said Trai secretary Sunil K Gupta.
Sterlite Technologies Group chief executive Anand Agarwal said there is a need to bring parity in spending on physical and digital infrastructure, and that a Rs 1 lakh crore combined annual investment is needed to strengthen telecom backhaul and augment fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) connectivity. In a bid to overcome bandwidth constraints and boost FTTH services, telecom carriers as well as tower companies, in tandem with the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), are focusing on expanding fibre footprint in the country multifold by 2025.
Out of a total of 590,000 towers in India, less than 20% are fiberised, compared with 75-80% in countries like China. “We recognise that fiberisation is an important activity that needs to be undertaken at a much higher priority to provide uninterrupted bandwidth to the individuals,” said Trai’s Gupta.