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Spectrum for satellite broadband services to be auctioned, not allocated

The Department of Telecommunications has decided to auction spectrum for offering satellite broadband services instead of the industry demand to allocate it.

The DoT has requested the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to provide its recommendations on appropriate frequency bands, band plan, block size applicable reserve price, the quantum of spectrum to be auctioned, and associated conditions for auction of spectrum for space-based communication services.

TRAI has also sought further details from the DoT through its communications between September and November 2021 regarding the details of frequency bands of satellite spectrum and quantum of spectrum available in each band required to be put to auction for satcom services.

Contentious decision
The question of whether satellite spectrum should be auctioned or allocated has been a bone of contentious between telecom operators and satcom players. Telecom operators want satellite spectrum to be auctioned because they also have to buy spectrum through an auction for terrestrial mobile services. Telecom player argue that since satellite operators will be competing for the same market, the rules of the game should be the same for all.

According to experts who support the auctioning of satellite spectrum, since satellite players are moving in to provide similar services as terrestrial operators, they are required to go through the same process of acquiring spectrum in order to ensure that there is a level playing field.

Differ from international standard
Currently, the international standard is that satellite spectrum is not auctioned and rather assigned through paying the license fee. Earlier this year, Sunil Bharti Mittal, founder and chair of Airtel Bharti and a backer of OneWeb, a satellite internet company, said that there is no case for auction for satellite spectrum because, unlike terrestrial spectrum, the use cases are different. Others differ, saying that now satellite operators, especially low earth orbit players, are foraying into providing services similar to mobile broadband through satellite communications.

Non space-based communication
It will be some time, however, before the auction of the satellite spectrum will take place. In a letter dated November 27, 2021, DoT said that “information in respect of space-based services sought by TRAI (via their November 23 letter) …will take some time. Therefore, to avoid delay in the 5G roll-out, TRAI may go ahead with consultations/recommendations on issues excluding space-based communication services…..Issues related to space-based communication services may be taken up separately on receipt of information from the DoT.”

Sources close to the DoT told BusinessLine that the satellite spectrum auction discussion has been postponed due to the non-availability of info on what spectrum bands are used for satellite services. The Hindu BusinessLine

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