After the successful auction of 5G spectrum, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has initiated moves to auction the backhaul spectrum.

DoT has asked the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to provide recommendations for the auction of E-band and V-band spectrum, which is utilised for backhaul purposes, sources told BusinessLine.

It has sent TRAI a reference in this regard a few days ago. This is a major decision, given that the backhaul spectrum, so far, has been administratively assigned to telecom operators.

Though DoT was deliberating on implementing the ethos of the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision on the universal auction of spectrum for almost a decade, it had been provisionally allotting backhaul spectrum to operators in the interim.

With the auction of backhaul spectrum, certain operators will not only have to procure future backhaul spectrum through auctions, but will also have to re-acquire the spectrum that they had been provisionally assigned, through the auction.

Backhaul spectrum allows telcos to send data back from users and access cell towers to aggregators, essentially consolidating the network. There are various means of backhaul including optic fibre, satellites and wireless backhaul through the spectrum. With poor fiberisation of telecom towers, telcos are heavily reliant on spectrum for backhaul purposes.

With the 5G rollout, data requirements of users and enterprises will increase exponentially and the demand for backhaul spectrum from operators will also increase massively. Many experts believe that the current fiberisation of cell towers, which is at 30 per cent, will not be able to uphold a data-rich 5G network.

Advantage telcos

A senior official at DoT told BusinessLine on condition of anonymity, “Telcos will make 100x more in revenue than what they will have to spend to procure this spectrum through auction. Telcos will also save money in comparison to what they spent while acquiring spectrum through administrative assignments. This will also save the government from the administrative hassles in allotment of spectrum.”

Administrative assignment of spectrum has been a contentious issue in the telecommunications industry, especially in the wake of the infamous 2G scam, where alleged dodgy allotment of 2G spectrum led to the biggest scam in Indian history and cost the exchequer ₹1.76 lakh crore.

The Supreme Court’s 2012 decision on the issue noted that service providers must procure spectrum through an auction process. Against this backdrop, DoT is also batting for auction of other technologies in the telecommunications and broadband domain such as satellite spectrum.

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