Raise 5G spectrum sale bar, hike base price for select bands: DoT to Trai

India will hold auctions for 5G spectrum and other bands this year.
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has asked the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to review its recommendations on 5G spectrum auctions. The DoT wants the telecom regulator to increase the quantum of airwaves on sale and hike the base price for some frequency bands, it is learnt.

Also, the DoT has clarified that the 3,400-3,425 megahertz (MHz) spectrum, currently being used by the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) pan-Indian, must be kept out of the ambit of auction. 

While Trai had suggested auctioning the entire spectrum available in various bands, barring the specific locations where Isro was using 25 MHz of spectrum, the national space agency has sought an exemption for its airwaves sale pan-Indian.

Trai’s response to the DoT is expected before the meeting of the Digital Communications Commission (DCC), scheduled for June 13. Any auction decision taken by the DCC (earlier Telecom Commission), chaired by the DoT secretary, will be sent to the Union Cabinet for approval.

“Some of the spectrum has been surrendered by companies after a round of mergers and acquisitions in the telecom sector. And some spectrum licences have expired since Trai came out with its recommendations last August. There’s room for auction of more spectrum,” an official in the know of the matter told Business Standard.

While the telecom department wants an increase in the reserve price for some lucrative bands, the official quoted above refused to provide details. Newly appointed Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in his first press conference, last week, had said India would hold auction for 5G spectrum and other bands in the current calendar year.

Even though telecom majors — Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea — have maintained that auctions should not be held in 2019, experts argue that may mean India missing the 5G bus. Reliance Jio, the disruptor in the space, is keen on early 5G auctions. 

Trai had recommended 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.

The 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 around 40 per cent to Rs 6,568 crore per MHz pan-Indian, 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 2,100 MHz 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 the previous spectrum auctions held in 2016. The bands sold were 2G, 3G, and 4G.

The DCC on Thursday is also expected to take up the proposal of granting free spectrum in the premium 700 MHz band, considered suitable for high-speed wireless data service, to the Ministry of Railways. Since the Railways has sought 10 MHz of the 700 MHz band spectrum for free for safety and security purposes, the telecom department has referred the matter to Trai. The DoT has asked the regulator whether spectrum worth about Rs 1 trillion should be allocated free of charge to the Railways.

Get on the bandwidth

  • In August 2018, Trai recommends pan-Indian base price of Rs 492 crore per MHz for 5G radiowaves
  • Lowers base price of frequencies that remained unsold in the 2016 auctions
  • 5G spectrum to be auctioned in block size of 20 MHz
  • Telcos will have to shell out a minimum of Rs 9,840 crore on pan-Indian basis to buy spectrum in 3,300-3,600 MHz band
  • Trai has suggested base price of Rs 3,285 per MHz for paired spectrum in 1,800 MHz band


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