Once the department identifies spectrum for private networks, it will ask the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to give prices for administrative allocation, a senior official said.
While Trai has identified some airwaves that can be reserved for such networks, the DoT wants to explore more bands that would have less commercial potential.
“The thinking is not to reserve spectrum (for closed networks) that is in high demand and has to be auctioned,” the official said. In its recommendations for the 5G auction, Trai suggested that blocks of at least 40 MHz can be allocated in the 3700-3800 MHz and 4800-4990 MHz bands for private networks. There was also a position to designate at least 400 MHz in the 28.5-29.5 GHz band for private networks, as well as for satellite earth stations.
Most of the companies seeking direct allocation of spectrum for private networks have sought airwaves in the bands identified by Trai.
The most sought-after spectrum is the 3700-3800 MHz or mid band, which was recently auctioned for 5G services. At a recent auction, the 3300-3670 MHz spectrum was put up for sale. According to details available with ET, companies including Infosys, Capgemini, GMR, L&T, Tata Communications, Tata Power and Tejas Networks have applied to the DoT for allocation of spectrum in that band in select areas.
In addition to mid-range, companies also sought spectrum in the 28.5-29.5 GHz, or millimeter wave (mmWave) band, and 4800-4990 MHz.
DoT has received about 18 applications for direct spectrum allocation, though there is more than one application from the same group of companies. These applications were filed in response to an exercise initiated by the DoT to test the demand for spectrum for setting up private networks.
There is a section within the DoT that believes that if mid-band spectrum is given to private networks, firms should pay a market-determined price for it because the airwaves have just been auctioned. But no final decision on rates has been taken so far and the DoT will wait for Trai’s recommendations, the official quoted above said.
According to the initial guidelines on private networks released by the DoT, businesses looking to set up their own networks can lease spectrum from telecom operators or get it directly from the DoT. Businesses can also ask telecom operators to roll out their own private networks. For example, Airtel recently signed a pact with partner Tech Mahindra to deploy a closed private network at Mahindra’s Chakan facility.
DoT has also not given any deadline for direct spectrum allocation.
Industry executives believe it could be a year or two before the government publishes detailed rules on such distribution.
Under private networks, corporate houses can set up their own Wi-Fi and data network instead of taking services from telecom service providers as is the norm now.
The concept of private networks is emerging as one of the most promising use cases for 5G in enterprises.
The issue of direct spectrum allocation to companies to deploy private 5G networks has been contentious, pitting technology firms against telecom operators.
Since June, when the cabinet approved a proposal to directly allocate spectrum to businesses, telcos have opposed the move, arguing it would undermine the level playing field and give tech players backdoor access to providing 5G services to businesses.
However, tech companies are calling for a direct government allocation of 5G spectrum for closed networks, without telcos being involved.