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Spectrum and regulatory policies impacting the mobile revolution in India

Presentations made at Session on Day Three, IMC 2020 held at 11-12 pm on December 10, 2020

K Ramchand, Member (Technology), Department of Telecommunications
“This country, as well as the entire world has faced the pandemic crisis quite admirably. And, the telecom infrastructure has played a very important and critical role.

The year, 2021 would be remembered as the year of 5G, as we are all expecting that India would see the launch of 5G technology.

During the pandemic crisis, the telecom infrastructure played a very important role. People started working from home and using the basic telecom infrastructure and technologies as video conferencing etc. businesses could continue.

A month back, DoT came out with a policy, that simplified the rules for other service providers, and more importantly, not only enabled WFH but also work from anywhere. This puts a lot of stress on development of infrastructure across the country.  DoT is sparing no efforts to improve the infrastructure in the country.

In this endeavour, the role of the private service providers has increased. I congratulate all the telecom service providers, internet service providers, and infrastructure providers for providing excellent services during the COVID crisis to the citizens of this country.

DoT realizes the importance of infrastructure and of establishing rules and regulations for ease of doing business. The Right of Way Rules introduced in 2016 have prompted a lot of progress in many state governments. Almost 16-17 states have aligned their RoW Rules with the central govt. rules, and I am sure in the coming year, other states will also fall in line.

New technologies and higher bandwidths can only be provided once optical fibre reaches all the corners of the country. 5G technology will require huge backhaul and it fiberization of towers and sites. It is imperative that the optical fibre network be extended to not only cities but also all the villages.

In this endeavour, USOF is doing a tremendous job of connecting the villages. Apart from the great work already done by our department of connecting the gram panchayats with optical fiber, the Honorable PM has announced that all 600,000 villages, would be connected by optical fibers in another 1000 days.

The difference between phase 1 of BharatNet and the current phase is that upto the gram panchayat level, we shall now be introducing ring topology for the optical fibre network. This will not only provide telecom services to the gram panchayats and villages, but also act as backhaul infrastructure, which can be shared on a non-inclusive basis by all the service providers so that the not only the small towns but also the villages of the country can be connected.

Spectrum is an important aspect for the launch of 5G services.  The identification of the relevant bands and of free unallotted bands, and then the auction of the bands will need to be addressed at the outset.

We are in the process of consultation with other users-the traditional users of the spectrum, the Ministries of Defense and I&B, and Department of Space, and are working out how spectrum in various bands can be used in a coordinated and shared way.

The E&V band too is key to providing backhaul, especially in the cities where it is very difficult to getting road-cutting permissions to lay optical fibre along the roads. The E&V band is not only a substitute to optical fibre, but also useful for its high bandwidth availability and the possibility of reuse at the different locations in the same area.

The DoT, as a part of ease of doing business, has moved the wireless licensing regime to the Saral Sanchar portal, and all licenses shall be issued through the online system. The online scheme would cover SACFA, fixed and mobile frequencies below and above 806 MHz, telecom network, mobile satellite service, terrestrial broadcast, and links for Internet service providers.

Touching on the second aspect of the IMC 2020 theme, secure communications, 5G will ensure the focus of telecommunication infrastructure that was very specific to hardware and software developed by different vendors will now see telecom software being run-on general-purpose hardware. A large number of devices will be connected to the software, with a large number of third-party applications running on the network, offering ubiquitous connectivity.

5G will change the way we live. It will have the capability of connecting roughly 1 million devices per sq km. And as telecommunications will be the backbone for not only telecom services, but other infrastructure as power, transport, and medical, the procurement of the equipment from trusted source is extremely crucial. And before 5G is introduced, the government will look into all aspects of providing safe, smart, secure and sustainable telecom services to the citizens of this country.”

S.K. Gupta, Secretary, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India
“5G is not just a technological evolution after 4G, it is a game changer. The 5G revolution will impact the way people work, conduct business, socialize and adopt new entertainment options and education.

Telecom has become the backbone and provides various services across different verticals, be it education, health, agriculture, finance, e-commerce, or entertainment. Effective implementation of 5G has become all the more important, keeping in view technological developments such as artificial intelligence, cloud services, machine to machine communication, process automation, robotics, and edge computing.

5G can provide high speed internet access, ultra-low latency applications, and massive machine to machine communication. While on one hand, it enables virtualization, it has all the features to support disruptive technologies likely to change human interactions. It is due to this reason, that 5G is also called communication and computing technology.

The issue is how to make 5G successful in India. The key enabler of this technology is the large chunk of spectrum required in high band, software defined network, massive MIMO and beaming formation, network slicing and service-based architecture.

TRAI has already given its recommendations for auction of the spectrum in 3300- 3600 MHz band. Identification of the spectrum in millimetre waves is important to roll out the 5G services, and we hope to get the reference in this regard very soon.

Robust backhaul is another requirement for effective 5G rollout. Presently, only 30 percent of the Base Transceiver Stations have optical fibre connectivity and therefore, massive fiberization is the need of the hour.

TRAI has already given its recommendation to enhance the role of infrastructure providers. We hope that infrastructure providers can bring the required finances and boost up fiberization activity in India.

Right of Way and single window clearance will play an important role to enhance the fiberization activity in India. Though, DoT has already made rules to facilitate Right of Way permission, the procedure will need to be further simplified and made user-friendly.

Identification of the development and testing of India specific use cases is an important parameter for success of rollout of 5G. TRAI has already recommended for allocation of the spectrum for 5G trials, service providers have tonow  come forward and initiate testing of India specific use cases.

Success of 5G will depend on a conducive ecosystem, where device manufacturers, sensor developers, system integrators, app providers and telecom service providers come together.

Creation of a platform for mutual cooperation will boost the morale of the start-ups and facilitate the India specific use cases. Proliferation and adoption of India specific use cases will directly result into revenue potential for the telecom service providers, making network deployment profitable and viable. I am aware of the concern of the TSPs who feel that adequate spectrum must be allocated to the TSPs and the spectrum price must be reasonable. TRAI has recommended that all available spectrum should be put to auction, so that there is no artificial scarcity of spectrum.

Further, spectrum-sharing and spectrum trading must be encouraged for effective spectrum use. TRAI has made every effort to ensure that the price of the spectrum is reasonable and market friendly.

Global comparison is only possible when we do it on equitable parameters, taking into account various variables and future prospects. TRAI, as a regulator is sensitive to the requirements of enabling and forward-look regulatory policies and framework for continuous technological development, adoption and innovation.

There is a need to relook on the policy framework adopted in early 2000. In an era of convergence, the regulatory framework must be clear, predictable and growth oriented.

Allocation of spectrum in E&V band will facilitate quick rollout of 5G services at affordable prices. There is a need to create a framework for use of street furniture for the provision of the 5G services.

Data privacy and consumer protection will be important challenges in the 5G era. Consumer education will also play an important role for successful rollout of 5G.

5G is a game changer technology, there are sufficient India specific use cases, providing viable and affordable business models. I am very optimistic and hope that 5G will be introduced in the Indian market very soon.”

Shobhit Aggarwal, Partner, KPMG in India and Moderator of this session.
“This panel is regarding 5G policies and spectrum, spectrum and regulatory policies impacting the mobile revolution in India.

The government has a key role to play in the progress of the telecom industry and in defining policy and regulation. Considering the infrastructural challenges in India, the role of the government becomes all the more important in making the transition from 3G and 4G to 5G technology.

Spectrum acquisition cost needs be affordable for the telecom players, not only because it causes financial stress to the telcos, but also has a cascading effect on the cost to the consumers.

It would be critical to provide support in the form of quicker Right of Way permits, single window clearances, time bound permit decisions, reduced fee structures and well-defined guidelines on infrastructure sharing and user street infrastructure.

The government could also incentivize the movement toward 5G through a slew of measures, which obviously need to be debated upon.

As we embark on this, some of the key questions we come upon are:

As India is  still away from the 5G rollout, from spectrum auction, rollout protocols and on ground use case testing, how can 5G implementation process gain momentum?

5G needs a significant amount of harmonized mobile spectrum in contiguous blocks for realizing the true potential use cases of the technology and global intra-operability. What can help in achieving these objectives and how can India we get close to these global standards?

How do we keep the high or expected to be high 5G spectrum prices limited without really limiting the network investment and driving up the cost of services and adding to the already stressed telecom sector. And, what is and can be done to ensure that it does not happen?

Lastly, key imperatives of regulation or the policy reform relating to enabling the infrastructure to ensure speedier deployment and 5G adoption.

For this we have an august panel to deliberate on these aspects.

Moderator- Shobhit Aggarwal >You represent an OEM that is deeply embedded in the genesis of the technology and involving the ecosystem. Given these circumstances, what do you see as critical in terms of network architecture and planning infrastructure. How does spectrum play its part amongst all these?
Subrata Kumar Mitra, Head-Government & Industry Relations, Ericsson
“Globally, we have seen that countries which have decided on a spectrum strategy are the ones who have moved ahead on 5G technology. It is imperative that there is absolute clarity on the amount of spectrum needed; it must be continuous spectrum, without any hindrance; and with no geographical or power restrictions of any nature. These are the prerequisites for a robust 5G rollout. And this is spectrum across the 3 core bands: 3.5 GHz, mmWave band 26 GHz or 28FHz, and critical backhaul. These three issues need to be resolved.

We have requested the regulator and the government to give a minimum of 100 MHz per operator in the 3.5 GHz band, at least 400 MHz in the millimeter wave bandwidth in 26-28 GHz, a  sufficient amount of backhaul in the E-band This will be critical in the first stage.

It is critical because our entire network planning, equipment planning, availability, design, architecture will depend on the spectrum that the operators will be able to buy .

Vishakha Saigal, Vice President & Head – Strategic Initiatives, Regulatory Policy & Research, Reliance Jio
“India needs to embark on the 5G journey without any further delay. Given the tremendous potential of 5G and the multiplier effect it can have on the economy, immediate and concerted efforts are needed to propel India on the 5G path.

The government should clear the framework and the guidelines for these trials and make provisions to allocate trial spectrum to the telcos across various bands on priority. The framework and conditions are important. They must give an adequate amount of flexibility to the TSPs and their partners to test various nuances of the technology without any bottleneck or administrative hindrance.

Second, to encourage long-term investments in 5G networks and ensure growth happens in the true sense, it is imperative to have transparent and an unambiguous spectrum policy, with a clearly defined roadmap of available spectrum over a horizon of at least 4-5 years. To balance the capacity and coverage needs and support varied use cases, all the bands are important. The roadmap should indicate a clear allocation plan of each of these bands.

Thirdly, adequate spectrum is very important. Unfortunately, smaller fragmented blocks of spectrum is not going to help. The current allocated spectrum block is very, very less and we need at least 200 MHz of continuous spectrum per operator for successful rollout of 5G and similarly, higher quantum spectrum for other bands as well.

Needless to say, the prices need to be affordable. Currently, the reserve prices are grossly inflated, and can seriously impair the ability of the industry and the telecom providers to invest in the much needed infrastructure.

Finally, spectrum in E&V band is very critical for 5G backhaul in India. It needs to be allocated on priority through a fair auction-based process.

Moderator- Shobhit Aggarwal>Where do you see that policy initiatives or improvement in policy initiatives plus the clear regulations can actually build. What will the key imperatives at this point of time and juncture, in the entire regulatory space?
Amit Kushwaha, Vice President-Regulatory, Bharti Airtel Limited
From an initiative to actually launch of 5G, trials are a must. We should start building up the ecosystem and use cases which are unique to India, because that is what will determine the return on investment that can be provided by 5G.

The spectrum needs to be allocated for a full one year period and due relaxation as required in terms of import licenses and addition of OEMs, equipment and sites may be allowed by the DoT.

Having said this, we cannot neglect the requirement of harmonized spectrum and standards. Harmonized spectrum, aligned with WRC 19 is required as the equipment that is procured globally works in all the bands and is required for international roaming. Standards must be 3 GPP standards or globally adopted standards.

Adequate spectrum at affordable prices must be made available before we forward in this journey.

Moderator- Shobhit Aggarwal>Balancing between licensed and unlicensed spectrum is very relevant in the Indian situation to split the approach between urban and rural implementation. The usage of data in rural is shooting and is going to be an important part of the strategy, from the social aspect rather than only the commercialization of entire technology. What would you see as key things to push this engine and accelerate forward.
Sundeep Kathuria, Executive Vice President, Policy and Regulation, Regulatory Affairs, Vodafone Idea Limited
“First, the infrastructure part is very critical. With 30 percent fiberized towers as against 80 percent in US or China, backhaul will become a major issue for 5G. Even if we have adequate spectrum, but not the fibre, the 5G dream will not be fulfilled.

Additional power too will be required. As the network will now be more dense reliability of electricity will be an important issue too.

There are variances which need to be ironed out. With 650 million people having smartphones, the usage per subscriber of 11 Gbps is also very high. And the allocated spectrum is 25 percent in comparison to worldwide allocations. That results in high network layouts. While the CapEx is very high compared to other countries, the ARPUs are the lowest in the world. Pricing issue at the regulatory level must be addressed so that the business case of operators becomes sustainable and the country can thrive on 5G.”

Moderator- Shobhit Aggarwal> STL is a huge player in optical fiber. With your support to MNOs, and keen observation on policy perspectives of the government through the entire spectrum cycle for the last 25 years, what would be your thoughts on the matter.
Col Bharat Gupta, Head of Corporate Affairs, STL
“Apart from the spectrum, 5G rollout in the country will need investments in infrastructure. Technology standards and India specific use cases have equal relevance.

A lot has been done by both the government and the private sector, through the entire telecom revolution in the country, since the 1990s. But a lot of ground remains to be covered.

Let me briefly summarize my point of view in domains.

Fiberization will be a key enabler for sensible deployment of 5G in the country. There will be a lot of densification, that will require converting street furniture into the radiating elements, for which massive fiberization effort requirement is essential. The 20-25 percent fiberization of towers in India, at the moment, is abysmally low. The NDCP 2018 and National Infrastructure Pipeline document both pay a lot of emphasis on this aspect. The need of laying 7.5 million million km is well recognised. The RoW Rules’ tussle between various RWAs, municipal corporations etc will need to be resolved quickly.

Spectrum will need harmonization, be it in the 26 GHz and 28 GHz bands, or 40 GHz and 60 GHz bands. Secondly, the present mechanism of using the previous auction for determining the price of spectrum as on date needs to be revisited, if each TSP has to be provided the mandatory 100 MHz of spectrum and 1GHz millimeter wave. We need to move fast and in unison. India needs to position itself very well in WRC 23, so that the aspirations of our people are met.

Lastly, I would like to emphasize that though we are focusing on fiberization, there is assessment that the next requirement of data would come from enterprise networks, for they will be the ones to determine the use cases for 5G.”
CT Bureau

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