5G on Spectrum

What to Expect from the Upcoming 5G Spectrum Auction?

After the 4G Spectrum Auction was concluded on 2nd March, speculation grew about 5G spectrum auction as well. Naturally, it is the next step forward so the excitement about it is similar to that around 4G. Reliance Jio went big, while Bharti Airtel were a distant second. On the other hand, Vodafone Idea just bolstered and updated its already good spectrum holdings. All in all, it was an auction that exceeded expectations, in terms of sheer buying at least.

Here are a few pointers as to what will happen when the fateful day arrives (drumrolls for the dramatic effect).

When Will the 5G Spectrum Auction Take Place?

Multiple reports from within the DoT have noted that the 5G Spectrum auction will go live within the next 6 months. That gives a deadline around Late August to Early September. However, it should be taken with a pinch of salt as there is no telling when 5G is going to rollout, despite the impatience of the telcos.

There are still alternatives to proper 5G spectrum, however. Some high-end 4G spectrum, like the 700 MHz spectrum band, can be used to carry signals till spectrum is available. That means that even if the rollout gets late, the 5G party might still be on.

What are the 5G Spectrum Bands?

4G spectrum bands ranged from 700 MHz to 2.7 GHz, giving it a range of almost 2000 MHz. However, only a select few frequencies are compatible with the current infrastructure and that makes telecom spectrum a valuable asset.

The 5G spectrum is vast and ranges from sub-1 GHz waves to several tens of GHz, the so-called “mmWave” Spectrum. There are three major frequency brackets – low frequency (sub-1 GHz frequencies), medium frequency (1-6 GHz) and high frequency (>6 GHz). To increase flexibility, 40 GHz (37-43.5 GHz) is also important.

At WRC-19, countries supported a harmonized identification of 26 GHz, 40 GHz, and 66 GHz for ultra-high-speed and ultra-low latency consumer, business and government services. The conference also made it possible to start using 50 GHz for 5G.

  1. In the low frequency range, 700 MHz is popular because it is efficient and can be used to carry both 4G and 5G. However, it is so expensive that telcos just ignored it. What’s more, this was the second time in 5 years that the frequency was there to buy yet there was no telco that could afford it.
  2. In the medium frequency range, the 3.5 GHz band is very in-demand. For fast rollout of 5G, this frequency needs to be available at a lucrative price. This will decide how fast 5G is out there for Indians and how affordable it is for them. Indian consumers have made no secret of their admiration of value for money and for the Government to bank on that, this band needs to be sufficiently deep and cheap.
  3. There are no clear candidates in the high frequency range. Possibly because such ultra-high speed and ultra-low latency frequencies are for the Government and the military.

Conclusions

India needs to have a clear roadmap for 5G spectrum going in the auction and a goal to roll out the new generation as fast as possible. That can only be achieved if the spectrum is cheap and plentiful. The first priority should be to make sure as much as of the 3.5-4 GHz band is available as possible. Secondly, the price of 700 MHz frequency band should be around a reasonable price for telecom operators to consider it.

5G is coming soon, it is a matter of how the Government takes it.

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