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Allocate 5G spectrum to private networks only via auction: Telcos

With 5G services on the anvil, a tussle has started between telecom operators and non-telecom firms over allowing setting up of private networks.

Since 5G allows for office automation, machine-to-machine communications on a much large scale, a need has been felt by non-telecom firms for setting up their own telecom networks for captive purposes — meaning for all kind of communication activities within their internal networks. In simple terms it allows firms to set up their own WiFi network rather than taking the services from any telecom service provider as is the norm today. However, for external communication, services of a telecom operator would be needed.

For setting up private networks, companies would need 5G spectrum and the fight is how the same would be allocated to them.

Telecom operators are opposed to administrative allocation of spectrum to enterprises for setting up such private networks.

They want that spectrum should be auctioned for such purposes also.

On its part, the department of telecommunications (DoT) has sought the views of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) on which spectrum bands can be used for private networks and the spectrum allocation methodology for such networks.

According to sources, Trai is considering to reserve 25 MHz spectrum in 3400 MHz-3425 MHz band for private networks across the country, barring the five locations where Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) is using the spectrum. Trai feels that since Isro is only utilising spectrum at five locations, the rest can be reserved for private enterprises. But mobile operators are opposing this as they feel the spectrum can be used for 5G services and it should be auctioned.

Telecom operators maintain that all spectrum should be auctioned and this should apply to private non-telecom firms interested in setting up their private networks.

“There should be a level-playing field. We buy spectrum through auctions and comply with conditions like rollout obligations, security of network and other compliances mandated by DoT. Why would anybody get it without these conditions,” said a telecom industry executive.

However, independent analysts say that since private networks are akin to an intranet kind of network, auctioning spectrum does not make sense. The right way is to provide spectrum on a fixed charge to firms interested in setting up such networks. The charge can be determined by the Trai and DoT.

Sources in the Trai told Financial Express that making mobile operators the sole custodian of spectrum can hurt market opportunity for private networks. The regulator is deliberating that an option should be given to private companies whether they want to get spectrum through mobile operators or directly from DoT. Also, DoT can administratively allocate spectrum to certain enterprises at select locations based on the requirement.

The issue will be debated when Trai starts the consultation process for 5G spectrum auctions.

The concept of private network is emerging as one of the most promising use cases of 5G. It allows big enterprises to set up their own private mobile networks, taking care of all their communications needs. As per a white paper by Qualcomm, there are three key drivers to deploy a private mobile network. First, it guarantees coverage in remote locations where commercial network coverage is limited. Second, it leads to more network control, like applying configurations that are not supported in a public network and enterprises can retain sensitive operational data at premises. Thirdly, a private 5G network will be able to meet better performance profile. Financial Express

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