TRAI issues recommendations on 5G spectrum auction

2 Aug 2018

Indian telecoms watchdog the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has published its recommendations for the upcoming spectrum auction, including frequencies in the 3300MHz-3600MHz range that the agency expects to be used for new 5G developments. Following its public consultation, the TRAI has recommended that, with a small number of caveats, all of the available unsold and expiring spectrum in the 700MHz, 800MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz, 2100MHz, 2300MHz, 2500MHz and 3300MHz-3600MHz bands be put up for sale. Whilst spectrum in the lower bands saw substantial price reductions, the TRAI’s recommendations included an increase in the base price for 1800MHz-band airwaves, the regulator noting that it had used a combination of methods to determine the value of the frequencies.

With the high reserve price for 700MHz spectrum having deterred bids from cellcos when the airwaves were first auctioned in 2016, the entirety of the 700MHz band is available, for a total of 1,540MHz (2×35MHz in each of 22 operating areas). In terms of cost, the watchdog has suggested a price of INR62.68 billion (USD917 million) per MHz of pan-India spectrum, representing a reduction of more than 45% from the reserve price of INR114.85 billion in 2016. Most circles saw a reduction of 30%-40% in the proposals, with the notable exceptions of Mumbai – which had the price per MHz reduced by just 5.9% – Gujarat, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu, which saw price cuts of more than 70%.

For the 3300MHz-3600MHz band, meanwhile, the TRAI has recommended a price of INR4.92 billion per MHz pan-India frequencies. The band should be sold in 20MHz TDD blocks, with a cap of 100MHz per bidder to avoid monopolisation of the band – as noted by TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database there has been no upper limit on spectrum holdings within a particular band since March 2018. The regulator also suggested that no rollout obligations be imposed on the band but that the lock-in period before the frequencies become available for trading be extended to five years from two. This would prevent any misuse or hoarding of the spectrum, the TRAI noted.