India's regulator identifies up to 268MHz of LTE spectrum
Wants to accelerate 700MHz and 2.5GHz auctions, and reserve more of the bands for 4G, penalizing broadcasters
Published: 18 July, 2011
India's 3G services may be in their infancy, but regulator TRAI is desperate to accelerate the progress to 4G and close the gap with other mobile economies. It has repeated earlier pledges that it will bring new spectrum, suitable to LTE, to market quickly - possibly next year, and has identified likely bands.
Its claims will be met with some scepticism, given the complicated political and regulatory environment that surrounds Indian telecoms, as well as ongoing scandals over auction processes in earlier, 2G sales. Also, some 3G winners want to be given sufficient time to make a profit on their new networks before they have to invest in new technologies.
However, TRAI has identified six blocks of spectrum which it would look to auction as the first basis of LTE services (except for the TDD data networks to be launched in 2.3GHz BWA bands, which were auctioned last year). The main bands, as in the US and elsewhere, will be the 700MHz digital dividend spectrum, and the 2.5GHz-2.6GHz space. These licenses would probably be opened up to eight rival operators in each circle or operating region, said regulator sources - that would be more competitive than 3G, where five players are the norm, though less overcrowded than 2G, with a dozen per circle. However, if eight licenses are awarded, it will hardly help ease the problem of fragmentation in the Indian mobile market, where many players find it hard to make a profit amid high levels of competition and price wars. This is expected to prompt a wave of M&A and, if the regulator permits, network sharing.
These are just the first hints of what will be included in TRAI's consultation paper on 4G auctions, which should be published next month, followed by formal recommendations in October. Another key element will be plans to allow VoIP to be supported seamlessly over mobile and landline networks - currently VoIP calls are permitted between two PCs, but without any connectivity to a PSTN network. A change in this rule would be important for LTE operators, given its lack of circuit switched voice support - and for Reliance Infotel, the largest holder of the 2.3GHz spectrum, which is likely to use TD-LTE but is currently only talking about data services.
TRAI says that about 108MHz of spectrum is available in the 700MHz band, but anything between 60MHz and 84MHz is currently occupied by state agencies for analog TV or defense purposes. The regulator wants to reserve this band for 4G, as analog TV moves to digital, and to change a previous plan that would have kept some of the band back for digital broadcast and mobile TV. In the 2.5GHz band, there is 190MHz, but 150MHz is currently controlled by the Department of Space, which allocates it for satellite TV or communications systems. TRAI thinks that between 80MHz and 120MHz of this area could be vacated or refarmed for 4G.