In a win for telecom operators ahead of the launch of 5G services, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has decided to continue to administratively assign microwave and E band spectrum, utilised by operators for backhaul purposes.

DoT issued an office memorandum on Wednesday indicating that it will “as an interim measure, for a period of six months...will continue to make frequency assignments for mobile networks.” Other entities which will continue to see administrative assignments include broadcasters, satellite-based applications, radars, etc.

According to experts, administrative assignment of frequencies for mobile networks include both microwave and E band spectrum which are extremely important for operators for backhaul purposes for their future 5G networks. 

Operators are greatly relieved by the DoT’s extension, especially as the Ministry continues to think about auctioning off frequencies that operators typically used for backhaul. Traditionally, spectrum for backhaul is administratively allocated. However, according to Supreme Court’s 2012 decision, all spectrum has to be auctioned. In line with this directive, the Department of Telecommunication wants to auction off this backhaul spectrum, and for the past ten years it has allocated operators with microwave spectrum with the condition that operators will have to participate in auctions to re-acquire this spectrum.

DoT has also been preparing E Band spectrum for auction. E Band is the new frequency band which operators are likely to use for backhaul purposes and is especially pertinent for the deployment of 5G spectrum.

In light of the impending rollout of 5G networks, DoT has chosen to continue assigning this frequency in the interim while they consider the exact process by which backhaul frequency will be auctioned. “This was necessary for operators, who will commence their 5G rollout soon, and need this backhaul frequency for their new networks,” an industry executive told BusinessLine.

Wireless backhaul is also necessary especially because telecom operators continue to have poor fiberisation of their existing network and which will not be able to support the data demands of 5G. However, this does not mean that the DoT will not consider auctioning this spectrum in the future. As part of the memorandum, they noted that “the allotment of this spectrum is provisional and subject to the government’s decision on allotment and pricing of spectrum.” The memorandum also noted that in case DoT’s final decision is to allot spectrum through auction, the provisional allotment of the spectrum will be withdrawn. This means that telcos will need to partake in the auctions to re-acquire the allotted spectrum.