|Bye bye, 3G|
|Thursday, 29 March 2012 03:19|
Telcos can't share spectrum, govt shuts route for more
While the government has effectively shut the door on a large number of potential users of 3G technology by not allowing telcos to share 3G spectrum despite saying intra-circle roaming was allowed when the spectrum was auctioned (see ‘Kill it before it grows’, http://goo.gl/bkhOq) and wants to fine them for this, it has all but closed the door on fresh auctions as well. Under an agreement reached with the defence ministry, and announced to the empowered group of ministers who were trying to get more spectrum freed up for commercial purposes, the telecom ministry has surrendered vital 3G spectrum to the defence ministry. In the original scheme of things, 60 MHz of spectrum was theoretically available for 3G usage—the National Frequency Allocation Plan earmarked 1920-1980 MHz for the 3G uplink and 2110-2170 MHz for its downlink. Under the agreement between the telecom and defence ministry, the 300 MHz that is available in the 1700-2000 MHz bands is to be equally shared. The way this sharing is structured, 110 MHz is reserved for 2G purposes and will be vacated by defence over a period of time—the reason why the government wants more spectrum in the 1800 MHz band, presumably, is so that spectrum can be allocated for the older telcos while getting them to vacate the 900 MHz band they currently use. Since 900 MHz spectrum is very cost-effective, several telcos who don’t have this spectrum have been arguing the government should take this back (‘refarmed’, in jargon) when the licence period expires and auction it. Once the 2G spectrum needs are taken into account, another 15 MHz is reserved for CDMA services, leaving just 25 MHz for 3G services—which means there is only another 5MHz that can still be allotted for 3G services.
What makes the decision all the more curious is that, at one point, the government was talking about building a special optic fibre network for the defence forces so that more spectrum could be freed up. Indeed, at a time when there is a desperate need for 3G spectrum in the existing band, the government is focused on auctioning 700 MHz for which standalone equipment is yet to be developed.
Though it is true the government gave no assurances of future spectrum availability in writing at the time of the auction, it is not clear how it thinks 3G services are to be offered without enough spectrum. Theoretically, once the 900 MHz spectrum is ‘refarmed’, this can be used for 3G services, but this is at least 2-4 years away. So with no possibility of getting enough spectrum to offer quality data services, it is hardly surprising that leading telcos who are accused of violating intra-circle roaming norms are talking of giving the 3G spectrum back and asking for a refund.