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Telcos call for 6GHz band for 5G, govt says need time

While telecom operators have called for urgently freeing up the 6GHz band for 5G-based mobile broadband communications, the government is not keen on taking a decision on the matter for now, telecom department officials said.

Instead, it needs more time to study the impact of allocating the precious spectrum band for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) or Wi-Fi uses, they added.

The 6 GHz band represents the largest block of unused spectrum and is being fought over by telcos and tech companies due to its significant potential for 5G connectivity and Wi-Fi expansion.

It is a specific range of frequencies spanning from 5.925 GHz to 7.125 GHz, which is a mid-band frequency range.

In December, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a specialised United Nations agency for information and communication technologies of which India is a part, set aside 6.425-7.125GHz for licensed, mobile operations.

The decision was taken at the 10th World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-23), held every three-four years to review and revise international agreements on the use of radio spectrum.

Given that WRCs are held every four years under the auspices of the ITU, there is ample time for India to solidify its position on the matter, an official said. “We have informed the global body of our position, that the matter needs more careful review,” he stressed.

However, telecom operators have urged for greater urgency.

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which counts Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea among its members, has argued that at least 1200 MHz of spectrum needs to be allocated for mobile communications in India.

Currently, only 720 MHz is available in the mid-band in India, it said.

In its submission to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), Jio has said the entire band should be earmarked for IMT so that around 300-400 megahertz is available to each of the telecom service providers (TSPs) for growth of 5G and introduction of 6G services.

The Broadband India Forum (BIF), which represents tech majors like Google, Meta and Microsoft and telecom equipment makers such as Ericsson, Cisco and Huawei, have pushed for the 6GHz mid band to be delicensed, thereby opening it up for Wi-Fi in India.

Long way ahead
A letter by the GSM Association (GSMA), the global association of mobile operators, to Telecom Minister Ashwani Vaishnaw during the latest WRC had hinted that India was against mandating 6 GHz for IMT, Business Standard had reported in December 2023.

The letter by GSMA Director General Mats Granryd had said India will benefit from 6GHz being earmarked for 5G and 6G use. He added that it should not oppose ongoing efforts by other countries to find a consensus on the band’s use globally.

“We would, however, respectfully request your intervention and support to instruct the Indian delegation at WRC-23 to not oppose the efforts of other countries to find a consensus approach for the band. This will allow for the 6 GHz equipment ecosystem to develop, which Indian operators and manufacturers can leverage,” it had said.

Officials, however, argued that India would have to discuss the latest ITU decision with its fellow regional council members. After every WRC, a body is nominated in each country that invites comments from interested parties, which creates the national strategy. This is then presented to the regional council, which deliberates on the issue till a consensus is reached over the next four years.

“For the Asia-Pacific region, of which India is a part, the ITU has given certain policy formulations for 6GHz which may not be followed in the rest of the world. The same council also has China. So, finding a consensus will take time,” a telco official said.

Global precedents
Globally, the move by the United States to make the full 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use has created a trend in many countries like Brazil and Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, China will use the entire 1200 MHz in the 6 GHz band for 5G, while Europe has split the band, with the upper part considered for 5G and a new 500 MHz tranche available for Wi-Fi.

In September, last year, Trai recognised that the lower end of the 6 GHz spectrum band can be allocated for unlicensed use such as Wi-Fi, while the upper end is licensed for IMT. It had said this would be in line with global precedents.

It also noted that India has far less spectrum devoted to unlicensed use than other major economies. Business Standard

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