Divergent interests of telecom service providers (TSPs) and technology giants seeking private network seem to have delayed the auctioning process of 5G spectrum.

Sources said although allocation of spectrum to private network users in the upcoming auction has been ruled out, these players have approached the Government through their representative bodies. Their argument is that keeping them out could damage the process of digitisation of the economy and the prospect of making Indian products competitive in the global market.

The Government is keeping absolutely quiet. “We are yet to decide (on the spectrum auction details),” was all that a senior official in the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) had to say when questioned about when the auction was to come up for approval by the Cabinet.

The Digital Communications Commission (DCC) had, on May 17, approved the 5G spectrum auction as per Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI’s) recommendations (on base reserve prices). The proposals were likely be put up before the Cabinet the week after May 17.

“We will move the note to the Cabinet immediately...it may take a week’s time for them to go through it. The moment the Cabinet clears, the time starts ticking for us (for the auctions),” a senior official had told BusinessLine at the time.

However, the Cabinet has not approved the proposals yet. From the date of the Cabinet approval, it would take at least 45 days to hire the agency (auctioneer), prepare the terms and conditions of the auction, issue the notice inviting applications (NIA) and conduct meetings with the stakeholders. This essentially means that the deadline of June-end prescribed by Telecom Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw has already been crossed.

Competing interests

Sources said the delay can be partly attributed to various industry bodies and private captive players who have reached out to the Government to allocate the captive 5G networks to them. This is different from them buying the network from the telecom players.

Broadband India Forum (BIF) — whose members include Amazon, Cisco, Facebook, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Qualcomm from the global side and Indian tech companies such as ITI Ltd, RailTel and Tata Consultancy Services — has reportedly approached the Government with a request to “keep overall digitisation aspirations and interests in mind”.

The BIF urged the Government to provide these spectrum through administered allocation route at some nominal rates or give it for free. “We should think of the country, the consumer...it is the benefit of the consumer, efficiency of the enterprise and finally improvement of the economy. It (spectrum) is strictly for captive usage for improvement of efficiency,” said TV Ramachandran, President at BIF.

He said not only 5G, but captive network can be set up with 4G also, which the industry body has been requesting the government to open up. For instance, airports, ports, hotels and hospitals around the world use captive network to communicate within their campuses, and that gives faster response time, too.

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), in its recommendations, had also said that non-telecom enterprises would be allocated a 5G spectrum for building their private networks.

For captive network, spectrum is assigned to enterprises, is utilised within a limited geographic area. Therefore, it is also referred as spectrum for localised or local use. Spectrum assigned for localised private captive networks is used in such a manner that the signals are restricted within its geographic area and do not cause interference to other outside systems.