GSM telcos seek spectrum-swap deal with armed forces to offer 3G services
KOLKATA: GSM operators want to exchange units in 1900 MHz airwaves with the 2100 MHz spectrum held by armed forces so that the telcos have additional spectrum to offer 3G, or third generation, technology services.
The industry body representing the GSM operators such as Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular, has written to communications minister Kapil Sibal to explore a spectrum-swap deal with the armed forces to secure extra 15 units of 3G airwaves.
However, the proposal could unleash a fresh slugfest between the GSM and CDMA operators, like Reliance Comunications and Tata Teleservices, since the block in the 1900 MHz band is reserved for the later, in 10 years on renewal of their licenses, under refarming recommended by sector regulator Trai. The refarming will involve redistribution of efficient airwaves in the 800 MHz band held by CDMA operators to frequencies in the 1,900 MHz band when the permits of these companies come up for renewal.
But GSM operators, in letters to Sibal and the secretaries of defence, finance and economic affairs ministries, have deplored the idea of keeping 15 units of mobile broadband airwaves in the 1900 MHz band idle for another decade for a distant refarming need, given the acute 3G spectrum crunch in 2100 MHz band and poor traction of CDMA services in India. "It is unrealistic to leave 15 units of precious mobile broadband spectrum in the 1900 MHz band unused for another 10 years towards a distant CDMA airwaves refarming requirement that is unlikely to even arise.
Reserving this spectrum for such an eventuality can disrupt broadband growth in India and is a waste of a scarce national resource, which is why, it is necessary to derive economic value of the 1,900 MHz band by using it for 3G," Rajan Mathews, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), the industry lobby representing GSM firms, wrote in his letter.
The COAI has urged Sibal to urgently engage with the defence ministry to work out an exchange of 15 units of 3G airwaves in the 2100 MHz band in lieu of the 15 units of idle spectrum in the 1900 MHz band, claiming that such an exercise would free up three extra 5 MHz slots in the 2100 MHz band for commercial use, generate revenue for the government without compromising the spectrum requirements of the armed forces.