Telecom panel tells Trai to review recommendations on 5G spectrum sale

The Digital Communications Commission, the highest decision-making body in the telecom sector, on Thursday asked the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to review its recommendations on 5G spectrum sale, scheduled to take place in the calendar year to auction 8,644 MHz of airwaves, and make available a higher amount of spectrum, besides approving the rollout of airwaves for 5G trials in 100 days.

Trai should revisit the recommendations to see whether they are in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policy objectives of Digital India, broadband for all, and proliferation of 5G,” Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan told reporters after the meeting of the DCC.

The Commission comprises senior officials of the NITI Aayog, Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Electronics and IT, besides the Department of Telecom.

Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said India would hold auction for 5G spectrum and other bands this year.

The panel asked Trai, while reviewing its earlier suggestions, to ensure competition in the sector, given the fact there is extreme consolidation in the industry.

Because of harmonisation the department has released more spectrum, which can be offered for auction.

Spectrum harmonisation refers to the uniform allocation of radio frequency bands in a region.

DCC members are of the view that all spectrum should be auctioned because it is a valuable resource and unless it is used, there will be no benefit to society, an official privy to the information said.

Trai is expected to revert with its review, which also includes putting the available spectrum for sale, in a month.

Trai had recommended a pan-Indian base price of Rs 492 crore per MHz for 5G radiowaves, while lowering the base price of frequencies that remained unsold in the 2016 auctions.

Airwaves in the 3,300-3,600 MHz 5G band will be auctioned in the block size of 20 MHz.

The reserve price for the premium 700 MHz spectrum, which went unsold in the 2016 auctions, was reduced by more than 40 per cent to Rs 6,568 crore per MHz all-India from Rs 11,485 crore in 2016.

Trai recommended a base price of Rs 4,651 crore for paired spectrum in the 800 MHz band covering 19 circles, Rs 1,622 crore per MHz for the 900 MHz band covering seven circles, Rs 3,399 crore per MHz in the 2,100 MHz band covering 21 circles, and Rs 821 crore per MHz in the 2,500 MHz band covering 12 circles. It also suggested Rs 960 crore per MHz for unpaired spectrum in the 2,300 MHz band on a pan-Indian basis.

The central government earned Rs 65,789 crore from spectrum auctions in 2016. The bands sold were 2G, 3G, and 4G.

On the 5G trials, the commission has agreed on single-window clearance for auctions for conducting 5G trials for a period of one year with a provision for extension. Currently, the companies can conduct trials for a period of three months only.

A panel headed by IIT Kanpur Director Abhay Karandikar was tasked to make recommendations related to licensing, the amount of airwaves, and other aspects related to enabling experimental spectrum for conducting 5G trials. He suggested the spectrum should be made available for at least one year. His report has been accepted by the telecom panel.

The DCC deferred the decision on the cumulative penalty of Rs 3,050 crore on Airtel, Vodafone and Idea to its next meeting because the finance secretary had to leave for another meeting.

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