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The long wait for backhaul spectrum is not over

Mobile operators may have to wait longer for getting more backhaul spectrum as the department of telecommunications (DoT) is likely to make allocations only after an overall policy is formulated regarding the manner of grant of all forms of airwaves — administrative or through auctions.

The operators have asked for additional backhaul spectrum and are waiting for allocation for the last one-and-a-half year.

Backhaul spectrum is different from access spectrum and is used by the operators to connect their different sites.

The operators have reasoned that since alongwith their applications they have also given an undertaking that they will abide by whatever is the final decision of the government regarding conditions attached, allocations can be made before formalising a policy in this regard.

The DoT has already kickstarted the exercise to examine whether allocation of spectrum can be done through administrative process in addition to the auction route.

According to sources, the DoT was earlier working on a policy for backhaul spectrum but it has now decided that all kinds of spectrum allocation should be brought under one umbrella. “The DoT is working on Spectrum Act, which will take care of all kinds of spectrum allocation – be it administrative, auction or any other method. Once it is finalised, backhaul airwaves will also be given to telcos,” said a source.

All the telecom operators are facing scarcity of backhaul spectrum as broadband subscribers have increased over the last few years, which require more capacity. The lack of backhaul spectrum is affecting quality of service for customers.

Earlier, backhaul spectrum was given administratively to telecom operators but after the 2012 Supreme Court order, DoT has not given airwaves administratively to any telco. The operators though have got backhaul airwaves on provisional basis from DoT. For instance, Reliance Jio was allocated backhaul spectrum provisionally in 2016 when it launched its commercial services and similarly Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea’s earlier backhaul spectrum was renewed provisionally. But additional spectrum was not given to any company so far.

In 2012 when the Supreme Court had cancelled all 122 new licences granted by the then telecom minister A Raja, it had said that natural resources should be allocated through a process of auction. The court had added that there should be a transparent mechanism to allocate natural resources like spectrum, which provided a room for non-auction route but in public debates it has largely been seen that any deviation from auctions would be violative of the SC order.

The DoT may seek legal opinion on the matter, sources said adding that if need be the Telegraph Act may be amended to clearly spell out the modes of allocation of spectrum and for what purposes. Financial Express

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