New telecom reforms in India: Revolutionary steps are transforming industry

New guidelines have been issued to establish and operate Spectrum Regulatory Sandbox or Wireless Test Zones (WiTe Zones). Also, removal of requirement to obtain Wireless Operating License (WOL).

VoicenData Bureau
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Telecom reforms

Over the last couple of years, emerging technologies in the telecommunications sector have paved the way for innovative solutions through rigorous research and development (R&D), as well as testing and experimentation. 


Simultaneously, the Government of India has been actively fostering and facilitating these advancements through a wave of regulatory reforms. Recent significant developments, particularly the establishment of regulatory sandboxes and removal of certain licensing requirements initiated by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) seeks to usher in a new era of innovation in the telecom industry. 

Guidelines to establish and operate ‘Spectrum Regulatory Sandbox’ or ‘Wireless Test Zones’ (WiTe Zones)

The new guidelines were issued to facilitate the testing of wireless products and technologies for R&D and experimentation in specified spectrum bands. Research institutes, industry partners, telecom service providers, original equipment manufacturers etc., referred to as eligible entities can apply for the establishment of a WiTe Zone. 

License requirements: Eligible entities can apply for a WiTe Zone license, which will be valid for a period of 10 years and can be renewed for a subsequent period of years. The establishment of a WiTe Zone does not entail any fee however, users may be required to pay a prescribed fee per spectrum band per annum directly to the Government of India.


Categorization of WiTe Zones: Depending on the authorisation granted for use of spectrum, WiTe Zones can be categorised into two categories. Category-I enables testing and experimentation in the spectrum bands which have not been assigned to any user in that area. On the other hand, Category-II enables testing and experimentation in interior or uninhabited areas in the assigned spectrum bands which include IMT, satellite and broadcasting bands, upon the fulfilment of certain prescribed conditions.

Users of WiTe Zones: Both Indian nationals and entities can be users. Licensees of WiTe Zones can charge a nominal fee from the users who wish to test their products in the zone. 

Other conditions: Details of approved WiTe Zones will be published on a government website. Entities with approved WiTe Zones are required to nominate a ‘coordinator’ to liaise with the authorities on spectrum related issues. The coordinator must ensure that the test facilities at the WiTe Zone does not adversely affect existing radiocommunication services and that any issues are promptly addressed. 


Additionally, the licensed services must also not be negatively impacted, and appropriate steps must be undertaken to prevent interference. The coordinator has an obligation to provide periodic updates from time to time.

Removal of requirement to obtain Wireless Operating License (WOL)

In another interesting development, the DoT notified the removal of the requirement to obtain WOL for certain licensees such as Captive Very Small Aperture Terminal Closed User Group, Unified License  and Unified License (Virtual Network Operator) with authorisations of National Long Distance, International Long Distance, Service and Machine to Machine services. 

However, this exemption from the requirement to obtain WOL will not apply to entities that wish to establish a transmitting station and do not have an existing authorisation by the DoT. This can significantly streamline the licensing process and regulatory hurdles for telecom operators who are already ridden with administrative burdens, regulatory compliances, and approvals.



With the proliferation of 5G, increased adoption of Internet of Things, expansion of satellite communications, etc., the telecom industry is heading towards a transformative era with better connectivity and innovative products. This has the power to effectively change the way we interact, communicate and work. 

Regulatory sandboxes are widely known to provide a conducive and enabling environment for businesses to flourish and grow by facilitating the testing of innovative products, services, and business models with reduced risk, and by eliminating the burden of regulatory compliance. Such reforms can promote competition by allowing new entrants into the market, increase operational efficiency, promote investments, and accelerate the adoption of new technologies. 

The new telecom reforms have come at a much-needed juncture. Telecom service providers can now spend lesser time and resources navigating through complex regulatory processes and focus more on improving infrastructure and delivering quality services. As the industry embraces these reforms, it will be interesting to witness the evolution of the industry through the regulatory changes coupled with technology and innovation. 

-- Harsh Walia is Partner, and Sanjuktha A Yermal is Associate at Khaitan & Co.