The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) last week released its long awaited guidelines for the allocation and pricing of spectrum for cellular 3G and wireless broadband services. The watchdog says it has strived to make its recommendations both technology and service neutral. The guidelines must be approved by the Ministry of Communications before they can be implemented.
The TRAI identified that the 450MHz, 800MHz and 2100MHz bands should be utilised for 3G cellular services. As expected, the regulator has suggested auctioning frequencies and set a sliding scale of starting prices for spectrum varying across the country’s 23 telecoms circles. The proposed base price for spectrum covering India’s two biggest circles in Delhi and Mumbai would be INR800 million (USD17.4 million), Chennai and Calcutta would start at INR400 million with spectrum in all other telecoms circles set at INR150 million. All blocks will include universal service obligations covering rural regions where applicable. The highest bidder in each circle would choose the best spectrum band, with runners-up being required to offer a price equal to at least 75% of the winning bid. The TRAI is currently in talks with various private and state-run companies to free up frequencies for 3G services. It expects to have 2×32.5MHz of spectrum available for auction within six to nine months, including five 2×5MHz in the 2100MHz band, one 2×5MHz block in the 450MHz band, and two 2×1.25MHz blocks in the 800MHz band.
In terms of broadband wireless access (BWA), the TRAI has identified 200MHz of spectrum in the 3.3GHz-3.4GHz and 3.4GHz-3.6GHz bands to be prioritised for BWA services. It wants to issue around 13 contiguous 15MHz spectrum blocks to ISPs, Unified Access Service Licensees (UASL) and Cellular Mobile Service Providers (CMSP), and will work towards freeing up a further 100MHz for BWA services by 2010. In the first instance it suggests operators with existing spectrum in the 3.3GHz-3.4GHz band should be given the option to migrate to circle-wide operations by year-end, after which leftover spectrum should be allocated for BWA. Frequency in the 3.4GHz-3.6GHz band will be allocated in co-operation with the Department of Space, which currently oversees use of the band for satellite downlink services.
The TRAI says the allocation of the 700MHz, 1900MHz, 2300MHz and 2500MHz bands have been delayed on the grounds of ‘non-availability in a short term time frame’ and ‘technical issues’. It has, however, recommended that the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) should plan to vacate and re-farm the 2300MHz band from existing users by end-2007 and allocate it for BWA services.