The Broadband India Forum (BIF), which represents, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Qualcomm, Apple, Intel, Hughes and Amazon amongst others, has just shot off a letter to telecom secretary Anshu Prakash, saying any move to stop delicensing of E & V spectrum bands and auction it instead, on the suggestion of telcos, would rob Indians of the benefits of high-speed, gigabit capacity broadband connectivity and go against the sector regulator’s call for freeing up these airwaves.
BIF’s letter, dated September 30, comes 48 hours after Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), representing Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, sought telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad’s intervention to stop delicensing of E & V band spectrum and called for auctioning it to operators. The COAI had also warned any moves to delicense these airwaves would violate the Constitution, upset the level-playing field, lead to interference between telco networks and cause massive revenue losses to the government.
Airwaves in the E and V bands are a critical need for telcos as they can be used as backhaul to connect mobiles where fibre isn’t available and eventually for 5G services. Backhaul has to do with connecting the core of a mobile network to nodes and then onto towers, to transmit data. In locations where telcos can’t lay fibre – which typically requires manpower and a host of approvals besides huge investments – E and V bands can be used as a more cost-efficient option than fibre. More importantly, E band spectrum — between 71-76 Ghz and 81-86 Ghz — and those in the V band — between 57-64 GHz — can transmit data at lightning speeds of around 1,000 megabit per second, which is perfect as telcos brace to go 5G.
Telcos fear any delicensing of E & V band spectrum could potentially give global tech companies a low-cost, backdoor entry into the mobile broadband space. Global tech companies, who are members of BIF, on their part, have been enthused by the government’s stated plans to boost broadband penetration through the public WiFi route and believe access to delicensed E & V band spectrum can open up opportunities to deliver affordable, high-speed broadband connectivity to the masses.
BIF president T V Ramachandran, in the letter, said Trai, back in August 2014, had suggested “that both E and V bands be opened up, and had reiterated in 2015 that delicensing of V band airwaves be undertaken. Accordingly, any auctioning of these airwaves, he said, “would go against the regulator’s recommendations, international best practices and deny consumers the benefits of broadband connectivity and economic growth”.
Ramachandran said over 70 countries had opened up the `V band’ for delicensed usage, including US, UK, Australia, Korea, Japan, South Africa and Sweden. He added that countries which delicensed the band saw big innovations leading to development of the WiGig standard that provides high-speed and gigabit capacity broadband connectivity to citizens.
The BIF has also junked COAI’s description of E & V bands being commercially useful access spectrum, saying these are “microwave spectrum bands and not mobile access spectrum”. It cited the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling in the 2G case, saying the apex court had then cancelled only licences and mobile access spectrum allocations of 122 licensees but not microwave spectrum allocations and licences.