Telecom operators are in discussion with the government on harmonisation of spectrum acquired in the recently-concluded 5G auctions.

A top executive working for one of the operators told BusinessLine that telcos – Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea – have commenced talks with the government on harmonisation of the spectrum to reduce interference in the spectrum bands purchased by them in the auctions.

“This is the standard operating procedure after the conclusion of an auction. The discussions are happening on all spectrum bands,” said the executive. 

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The 5G auctions concluded on August 1, and the government has allocated spectrum to the operators. Union Minister of Communications, Electronics and Information Technology Ashwini Vaishnaw had said that government would allocate spectrum to operators by August 10. The first installment of payments by telcos will be due on August 17.

Interference issues

Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea will be encountering major interference issues in their spectrum bands. An expert told BusinessLine that these issues are not going to be resolved in discussions with the government. Especially as Bharti Airtel is encountering interference issues in the 3.5GHz spectrum band due to the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System installation in six locations. In this case, harmonisation is out of question and this band (3.5GHz) is not free to use in some circles for both Bharti and Vi, he noted. 

BusinessLine previously reported that Reliance Jio has a head start in the 5G race over Airtel because it strategically bought additional spectrum in six specific circles to ensure it does not face interference issue like Bharati Airtel in 3.5GHz spectrum band.

The expert noted, “in six cities, along with its surrounding geographies- Jio has punched a hole right in the middle of  Bharti’s 3.5GHz spectrum, by compelling them to buy spectrum that has navigation interference.” These six cities are namely- Hassan in Karnataka, Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, Shillong in North East, Jodhpur in Rajasthan, and Port Blair in West Bengal.  Both, Vi and Bharti Airtel are also encountering interference issues around international borders. 

Crucial band

3.5GHz band is a crucial spectrum band for deployment of 5G networks – thus it is important for operators to have a large quantity of contiguous spectrum in this band to provide the best possible service. An interference issue in certain locations would mean that the operators will no longer be able to boast a seamless 5G network pan-India.

Experts note that Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea could potentially deliberate spectrum sharing agreements in the 3.5GHz band to ensure both of them get large quantity of contiguous spectrum.