Making sounds of dissent, top Indian broadband, tech, and WiFi companies have placed their disappointment on record over the Digital Communications Commission’s (DCC) recent decision backing the allocation of premium ‘E band’ airwaves exclusively to mobile carriers via the administrative route.
Among some of the top global players who have resisted the move include Cisco, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, OneWeb, Hughes, Facebook-owner Meta, Qualcomm and Intel.
According to industry experts, the move is in direct conflict with the sector regulator’s position to open up this spectrum band. The top tech players are also planning to write to the government in this regard.
Among other key decisions, it has backed need-based, circle-wise allocation of E-band spectrum to telcos initially via the administrative route, with a rider that telcos would have to pay for these airwaves in the future based on an auction-based pricing mechanism determined by the regulator.
Industry think-tank BIF represents broadband/WiFi players, satellite operators, global tech majors, startups, and top academic institutions. The broadband forum wants the E-band spectrum to be opened up, in line with Trai’s earlier recommendation, as these airwaves can throw up opportunities to deliver affordable, fast broadband and WiFi connectivity to the masses.
In its upcoming letter to the DoT, it’s likely to strongly back Trai’s recommendation of 2014 that E-band is opened up with light-touch regulation, and that allotments be on a link-to-link basis.
The telcos, on their part, have been pushing DoT and Trai for the direct allocation of E-band spectrum as it’s ideal for mobile broadband backhaul networks, especially as they prepare to upgrade 4G networks with 5G-ready technologies.
Backhaul has to do with connecting the core of any mobile network to nodes and then onto towers, to transmit data. So in places where telcos can’t lay fiber – which requires manpower for laying and maintaining, national and local level permissions, besides large investments – E band spectrum can be used as a substitute as it’s more cost-efficient than fiber. Airwaves in the E band can also transmit data at super speeds of around 1,000 megabits per second.
Back in August 2014, Trai had recommended that an “E-band carrier should be charged Rs 10,000 per annum per the carrier of 250 Mhz each”. It had also suggested that DoT’s wireless planning cell (WPC) be tasked with handling registration formalities and database management for E-band allotments.
Last week, the DCC also decided not to allot spectrum directly to corporate enterprises for captive private 5G networks, contrary to what Trai had suggested. This too has dismayed the broadband forum, which is now counting on the Cabinet to overturn DCC’s decision, keeping India’s overall digitalisation interests in mind.