28 Oct Telecom companies meet parliamentary panel, urge 5G spectrum in multiple bands
KOLKATA: Telecom companies underlined in a joint meeting with the parliamentary standing committee on IT on Tuesday that the government should make 5G spectrum available across multiple bands, including premium millimetre waves, at affordable prices for boosting India’s readiness to deploy the next generation mobile broadband technology.
Separately, the parliamentary panel, headed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, sought clarity from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) on whether the government had actually banned Chinese telecom vendors, Huawei and ZTE from participating in 5G network contracts.
Senior DoT officials, it is learnt, told the panel that there is no ban in theory on any Chinese gear makers, stopping them from selling 5G gear, but like other companies from bordering countries, they too have to take additional approvals.
The Tharoor–led panel initially met top executives of Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea n Tuesday to assess India’s preparedness to go 5G. Later in the evening, it held a separate review meeting with DoT and the sector regulator.
Last month, DoT had told Parliament that a final decision on Chinese vendor involvement in 5G would be taken by the home ministry after taking into account the national security concerns.
Existing Chinese investments in India have come under close scrutiny of the government after rising tensions on the Sino-Indo border in August.
The government has so far barred the Chinese gear makers from supplying 4G gear to state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd. But it hasn’t issued any official circular regarding the same. The government is learnt to be also discouraging sourcing of equipment from Chinese vendors, ET had previously reported.
On the spectrum availability issue, a senior industry executive aware of the discussions, said “the issue of auctioning idle spectrum, currently locked with various central ministries, for commercial 5G services came up during the talks.
The Centre plans to auction 4G airwaves in early 2021, which may be followed by a sale of 5G spectrum later in the year. But it has yet to fix any 5G spectrum sale timeline or reveal the bands on offer. The regulator has so far earmarked airwaves in the 3.3-3.6 GHz bands for 5G in India.
Tuesday’s meetings come shortly after an apex panel of secretaries nudged the Department of Space (DoS) and the defence ministry to heed the DoT’s request to part with unused 5G spectrum – both in the coveted 26 GHz band and those in the 3.3-3.6 GHz frequencies – for commercial use by telcos. The DoT wants the government to release 3,000 units of 26 GHz millimetre wave spectrum and 300 units in the 3.3-3.6 GHz for 5G. The airwaves are with the DoS and the defence ministry.
Some telcos also flagged concerns around adopting any purely India-centric 5G standards, saying it would increase rollout and device costs and undermine the business case, said people aware of the matter. The issue is turning out to be a flashpoint between Reliance Jio on one side and older carriers Bharti Airtel and Vi on the other.
Jio is backing 5G technology with Indian standards to generate indigenous intellectual property rights (IPR), while its incumbent rivals say that these fall short in terms of interoperability with global standards and thus won’t be commercially viable.
“It was pointed out to the parliamentary panel that India could end up islanding itself in the global 5G space if it backs a local standard that does not mesh with the uniform global 5G standard already deployed in some 100 markets,” said another executive, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
Telcos also bemoaned disparate right of way rules and called for uniform norms to speed up countrywide fiberisation of telecom towers, which they said is absolutely critical to support 5G data speeds and apps such as video-on-demand, Internet of things and smart cities.
ET’s queries to Jio, Airtel and Vi remained unanswered till press time.