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COAI seeks urgent allocation of E and V band spectrum via auction to access providers

·4-min read

New Delhi, Sep 28 (PTI) Industry body COAI has cautioned that any decision on de-licensing or administrative allocation of high commercial value E and V bands spectrum will violate prevailing policy framework, create non level-playing-field for licenced telcos and cause huge revenue loss to the government.

In a letter to Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Cellular Operators' Association of India (COAI) on Monday called for allocation of spectrum in these specified bands 'through transparent auction to access service providers immediately'.

The COAI emphasised that these bands 'are extremely valuable resources for India for 5G as well as backhaul for mobile broadband'.

Radiowaves used for transmitting signals to mobile phones are referred to as the access spectrum while backhaul spectrum augments signals between mobile towers at the back-end.

'...any decision of de-licensing or administrative allocation of high commercial value spectrum in E and V bands: is technically not feasible, will be contrary to the prevailing policy framework of spectrum allocation, contrary to the principle promulgated by the Hon'ble Supreme Court, contempt of Hon'ble Supreme Court...,' the COAI said.

Such a move would also lead to non-level playing field for licensed telecom operators, will not guarantee the efficient use of these bands, and 'cause huge revenue loss to the exchequer', COAI Director General S P Kochhar said, in the letter seen by PTI.

Radiowaves in E band, which falls in 71-76 GHz and 81-86 GHz, and V band, that is 57-64 GHz can transmit data at very high speeds, and the method of spectrum allotment in these bands has been a subject of much debate in the sector, and within government circles, in the past.

Spectrum in E and V bands has many utilities -- it can act both as a high capacity access spectrum for voice and data services as well as backhaul link spectrum.

As 'access spectrum', it has the ability to deliver data transfer rates of up to 7 Gbps. As backhaul spectrum, it can be used as high capacity focused, point-to-point links allowing a much higher reuse of the same frequency in a given area and making it suitable for last mile deployments in urban locations.

Radio access technologies have leap frogged over past years, and ITU is providing clear directions on the evolution of the radio access technologies and spectrum usage for the fifth generation (5G) of telecommunications, the COAI said.

Allocation methodology for spectrum in these bands will, therefore, have to be the same as applicable for other 5G spectrum bands, the industry body said.

'It is understood that some interest groups are seeking to de-license/ adopt light touch regulation for the E Band and V Band for access/ broadband services. It is submitted that both of these options that is delicensing or light touch regulation are technically not feasible, legally untenable, causes huge revenue loss to the government and disturbs level playing field...,' said the COAI, whose membership includes private telcos -- Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio.

The COAI has argued that highly reliable backhaul link is possible only when the operator has an exclusive license and the use and re-use of the spectrum is in full control of the telco.

'Ideally that is what government should consider for both bands that is E and V bands be used for mobile broadband backhaul,' it said.

If unlicensed, there will be wide and indiscriminate adoption of these spectrum bands which will make it open for many uses beyond telecom, leading to the uncontrolled concerns interference and making these bands useless for telecom services, the COAI said.

With de-licensing of such important spectrum bands, mobile broadband backhaul would be severely constrained, the association said adding that delicensing and allocation of spectrum on link-to-link basis is 'legally untenable and against the orders of the Supreme Court'.

On the other hand, market determined price through open auction will ensure huge revenue to the government, which has to be forgone in case of light-touch regulation or delicensing, it further said.

In case the government is indeed considering to delicense highly valuable and commercially useful access spectrum in these bands, the COAI said access spectrum allocated to its member telcos should also be delicensed and the amount paid by them for acquiring spectrum through auction should be 'refunded' to ensure level-playing-field.

'The V-band and E-band are extremely valuable resources for India for 5G as well as backhaul for mobile broadband, which will enable millions of homes to access high speed broadband for entertainment, education and work,' the COAI said. PTI MBI MKJ