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Telcos want govt to ensure easier pay terms for 5G spectrum

Telecom sector leaders are counting on the regulator and the government to ensure easier payment terms for 5G spectrum in the upcoming auctions.

They have also underlined the criticality of fast-track fiberisation of tower networks as India braces to roll out 5G later this year.

“The industry is expecting easier payment terms such that financial stress is neither aggravated nor does it nullify the liquidity support provided by the government with the (recent) reforms package,” Vodafone Idea managing director Ravinder Takkar said.

Last week, Vi’s board cleared a plan to raise Rs 4,500 crore from promoters Vodafone UK and India’s Aditya Birla Group via a preferential allotment and an extra Rs 10,000 crore from external investors, to take on Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel and participate in the upcoming 5G spectrum auction.

Bharti Enterprises vice chairman Akhil Gupta called for a comprehensive augmentation of the country’s optic fibre resources to enable the targeted 80-85% fiberisation of towers required for 5G networks to handle a likely massive surge in data traffic.

The government has been pushing the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to send its 5G spectrum pricing recommendations by the end of this month so that it can hold the auction in May. It wants initial 5G rollouts by August 15.

Takkar said India’s upcoming 5G rollouts are happening “at the right time” as the market and overall ecosystem is maturing. He, however, reiterated the industry’s demand for adequate supply of 5G airwaves at affordable rates in the upcoming sale.

He said that “it’s imperative each operator gets adequate spectrum at a significantly lower pricing than present levels”.

The recent 5G trials, he said, had also proven that higher data speeds, low latency and reliability of the next-generation mobile broadband technology have the potential to hugely boost performance of businesses, revolutionise customer experience, change consumer lifestyles and positively impact rural Indians.

Bharti’s Gupta urged the government to take “policy decisions quickly and (issue) necessary guidelines before it’s too late” as 5G infrastructure needs would be of a very different magnitude than 4G.

“5G will need hundreds of thousands of small cells due to the nature of spectrum used, and these small cells will have to be practically 100% on fibre from Day 1, which is why there will have to be a big augmentation of inter-state, intra-state and intra-city optic fibre networks,” Gupta said at the event.

The government has earmarked a mix of mid-band airwaves in the 3.3-3.67 Ghz range, millimetre waves (26/28 Ghz) and key sub-Ghz bands such as 600 Mhz and 700 Mhz for 5G services.

The 5G ecosystem in India had become “broader and deeper as technology companies, especially startups and SMEs are working hard to develop indigenous 5G technologies and services,” said AK Tiwari, member, Digital Communications Commission (DCC), the highest decision-making body in the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).

“The DoT-funded 5G testbed is almost ready to offer 5G testing services for technology and use-case companies…it will be accessible to all at an affordable cost, mainly for startups and SMEs,” Tiwari said.

Vi’s Takkar said that “startups would have a significant play in the whole 5G ecosystem.”

Vi is working with a host of innovative startups to build propositions for Industry 4.0, smart cities and smart citizens alike, he added.

Tata Consultancy Services’ chief operating officer NG Subramaniam said there was a need to “encourage and steer investments in R&D across the various dimensions of networks, radios, antennae, computers, storage systems and experiential applications”.

He said “an aligned vision for the future of 5G and 6G technologies” in terms of outcomes with cross coverage, capacity, experience, trust and security should be the top priority.

CT Bureau

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