According to a telco source, Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea have received a 6-month extension from the DoT on the ongoing 5G trials across the country. This move almost rules out a spectrum sale anytime during the first quarter of 2022.
5G Trials Get 6 More Months
The telcos had written to the DoT last month to request an extension. Notably, the three private telcos have been working with local and global partners to develop use cases for 5G. In their trial networks, live in Gurugram, Mumbai, Pune, and Gandhinagar, the three telcos have managed to make significant headways.
As such, a telco source told ET, "DoT gave an extension for 5G trials for a period of 6 months. We received a letter from the DoT earlier this week".
Currently, the Ministry of Defence holds the 3.3-3.4 GHz band, while the rest of the mid-band remains with ISRO. Notably, the mid-band spectrum remains the only band which has been "earmarked" for 5G services in India. The price, though, has become a big cause of concern. The price per MHz of the mid-band spectrum remains at Rs. 492 crore. That means, for setting up a network, which takes about 100 MHz of spectrum, it will take Rs. 49,200 crore, per telco. That price is something telcos are not keen on.
For now, TRAI is busy conducting consultations with stakeholders in the industry, before it sends its recommendations to the DoT. After this, TRAI will send the said recommendations to the DCC for approval. After approvals and modifications, TRAI will then send those recommendations to the Cabinet for approval. At last, after what will take about a year, DoT will invite applications for the spectrum sale.
With trials being given another 6 months, they will end some time in May 2022.
For now, the DoT has not provided any clarity on the spectrum bands, the quanta available, and the base prices. Since no decisions have been finalized on the National Frequency Allocation Policy.
What's more, the government has also discussions going on whether to administratively allocate spectrum. Though, not all telcos are keen on the idea of spectrum allocation this way; only Bharti Airtel has publicly supported the method. This means that Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea are still team auctions. However, the telecom department has a few roadblocks ahead before it can go the allocation way.
If administrative allocation isn't the option, then the telecom department has no choice but to auction the spectrum off.
It circles back to the spectrum bands, again. mmWave has already been a cause of back and forth arguments in the sector, with both telcos and satcom players wanting it all for themselves. Along with the floor price, the quantum of the spectrum also remains under wraps, causing more uncertainty.
Given the amount of work left to do for the government before the spectrum, it will come as little surprise if it pushes the sale back. However, only time will tell whether that would be a wise call or not.