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Airtel writes to DoT re delay in additional microwave access carriers for backhaul

Bharti Airtel has told the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) that it is facing serious challenges in network deployment and in enhancing its services owing to the DoT’s failure to clear its request for additional microwave access carriers for backhaul in various circles. Airtel says the request has been pending for a year, even though it is willing to pay for the spectrum at enhanced rates.

In its letter to the Digital Communications Commission chairman, the telco says the delay has occurred despite the fact that, based on its understanding, there is no dearth of microwave carriers as only 30 per cent of the backhaul capacity has been utilized.

The failure to allocate additional microwave access which is lying idle has meant that consumers have not been able to enjoy better services and the exchequer has lost out on extra revenue.
The call for providing more spectrum to power microwave access (backhaul for towers) has been growing as telcos expand their networks in order to meet the massive growth in subscriber usage, especially of data. With around 40 per cent of the towers powered by fibre backhaul alone, the dependence on microwave links to carry huge increases in data means that more backhaul spectrum is required.

The issue of pricing this spectrum is becoming contentious as some of the telcos are pushing for auctioning instead of the current method of allocation which is based on an administered price.

Some telcos have also pointed out that the DoT, even if it is willing to provide additional backhaul spectrum, is asking them to sign a clause saying they will retrospectively pay the price of the spectrum in case it is also put under auction.

In the letter, Bharti Airtel has asked for the allocation of additional microwave access carriers across six circles – Assam, Bihar, Jammu & Kashmir, Odisha, West Bengal and the North East. It has also asked for the extension of the partial allocation of existing nine microwave access carriers spread across six circles that include Andhra Pradesh, UP East Assam, Punjab, and others. A Bharti Airtel spokesperson declined to comment on the issue.

Some telcos are pushing for the auction route. They contend that telcos are paying around 2 per cent of their AGR for backhaul spectrum and its base price in an auction will always be minimal.

With only three players in the ring and abundant spectrum availability, it is unlikely that the auction determined price will be more than the players have been paying annually. Business Standard

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