Government of India has denied suggestions that India does not have enough spectrum to implement 5G wireless technologies.
Replying to a question in parliament, communications minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said India has set apart 275 MHz of spectrum for 5G services.
He, however, admitted that Broadband India Forum — a policy think tank headed by former COAI Secretary General TV Ramachandran — has expressed worries that the spectrum set apart for 5G services will not be enough for the same.
“In DoT’s view, the present available spectrum is enough to start the 5G services,” Prasad clarified.
Though 5G standards are yet to be finalized, many operators across the world have already started work on deploying the technology.
The key strength and differentiator for 5G will be its use of ‘fat pipes’ for data.
While typical 4G beams use spectrum carriers of width between 5 to 20 MHz each, 5G wireless technology is designed to be deployed over carriers of 75-150 MHz each.
Because of this, 5G services are expected to support download speeds of up to 1 Gbps, which is currently provided only by the most advanced fiber broadband providers in India.
However, if a single telecom operator buys 2 blocks of 100 MHz each for deploying 2 carriers, that would eat up 200 MHz out of the total 275 MHz set apart by India for these services. This would leave only 1 block of 75 MHz for the other two operators to fight over.
As such, the TRAI has suggested that there should be a cap of 100 MHz on the quantum of 5G spectrum that a single operator can purchase in this band.
The government is yet to take a call on the subject of capping, and is expected to do so closer to the time when it will put up the 275 MHz for auction.
Prasad also said the spectrum will be put up for auction in 2020.
Telecom operators like Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel may not be very keen on the 5G spectrum auction being conducted very soon, as they are still getting their finances in order after a recent Supreme Court decision led to the imposition of incremental taxes and levies of around Rs 80,000 cr on the two operators.
It is also possible that the two operators may not bid for 5G spectrum if the government puts a cap of 100 MHz on a single player, as the third operator — Reliance Jio — can only buy 100 MHz, leaving 175 MHz for Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel. There is no hurry to buy the spectrum as the actual deployment of 5G will take place sometime in 2021, starting with the bigger cities.
On the other hand, if there is no cap, these operators will be forced to bid for 1 block each in the coming auction to prevent Jio from buying all the 5G spectrum available.
The quantum of spectrum being set apart for 5G in India is roughly half of what some other countries are dedicating to the technology.
According to Ravi Shankar Prasad, besides spectrum from 3,300 MHz to 3,600 MHz — which is also being set apart by India — other countries are also likely to set apart the 100 MHz between 3,600 MHz to 3,700 MHz and around 200 MHz from 4,800 MHz to 5,000 MHz — or a total of 600 MHz.
However, India is unlikely to make the last two slots available as the frequencies are being used by ISRO for satellite communications.