Govt greenlights plans for multi-band 5G spectrum auction

15 Jun 2022

The Indian government has approved plans for the upcoming multi-band 5G spectrum auction, now set to take place in late July this year, comprising more than 72GHz of spectrum across the 600MHz, 700MHz, 800MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz, 2100MHz, 2300MHz, 3300MHz and 26GHz bands. The new licences will be valid for 20 years, and interested parties have until 8 July to submit applications with the auction due to begin on 26 July.

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has published a Notice Inviting Applications (NIA) for participation in the auction setting out the finalised conditions for the sale and whilst the updated rules for the tender have improved conditions for the interested bidders (the removal of Spectrum Usage Charges [SUC] and easier long-term payment options, for example), several concerns raised by operators following the publication of the initial draft plans have not been addressed. Of particular concern to operators was the suggestion that spectrum could allocated directly (i.e. without auction) to businesses for private networks. Regarding the matter, the Economic Times writes that industry group the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) last week warned the telecom minister that ‘any move to directly allocate spectrum to non-telco enterprises would degrade the 5G services business case for telcos and make CAPEX-intensive 5G network rollouts meaningless for them’. Despite such protests the DoT maintained its position and the NIA sets out several options for Captive Non-Public Networks (CNPNs), including the direct allocation of spectrum to enterprises, though details for such direct assignment will be determined at a future date.

Meanwhile, operators had also requested further reductions in base prices for 5G spectrum to encourage bidding and free up funds for investment in infrastructure. The prices recommended by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and subsequently accepted by the DoT represent a decrease of more than 30% – and around 40% for the coveted 700MHz range – compared to the last auction but telcos had requested that the reserve prices be lowered further still.