India says ‘no’ to direct private 5G licences “for now” – but ‘maybe later’
India is to say ‘no’ to direct spectrum allocations to enterprises for private 5G and Industry 4.0, as provisioned in most other major industrial markets, according to reports. Instead, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has recommended that leases for enterprise-owned private 5G networks are controlled by incumbent mobile network operators, obliged to make local spectrum provisions to enterprises.
The Economic Times quoted a source in the Indian department of telecoms (DoT) last week, that enterprises will be required to lease spectrum from incumbent telecoms operators “for now”. Trai’s new recommendations on the matter, set out in a 436-page paper, point this way; that the government will make regulation for enterprises to build their own 5G networks, but only via a mechanism that keeps mobile operators at the heart of spectrum ownership.
Trai said mobile operators in the country – notably Airtel, Jio, and Vodafone Idea – should serve enterprises either by sub-letting local spectrum to them, or by providing slices (as-a-service) of their public airwaves, whether newly acquired in the upcoming auction or “liberalised” from their existing holdings. The government is to auction airwaves at 600 MHz, 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300 MHz, 2500 MHz, and 3300-3670 GHz.
It said DoT should issue the spectrum licence, and operators should handle the spectrum provision. Guidelines for sub-letting 5G spectrum should stipulate a 10-year period as standard, easy 30-day web-based applications and renewals (via an “online portal system”), a Rs. 50,000 ($650) processing fee (paid to DoT), plus sundry admin about the holder and the network.
It said enterprises should be permitted to apply once for one licence for any number of locations and networks. The application process does not require the enterprise to specify the geographic area of operation; precise network coverage coordinates should be required during the separate application to operators for spectrum, it said. Enterprises will not be allowed to commerciale their 5G setups, as per the neutral host model in other markets.
Leasing charges should be negotiated between the operator and the enterprise, it said.The recommendations state private 5G networks in India should not connect to public 5G networks “in any manner”. It is unclear how this stipulation reconciles with slices of public infrastructure. And Trai said enterprises wishing to connect sites could do so through a “leased line” from the operator. Enterprises are entitled to mix leases from different operators, said Trai.
But, contrary to the report in The Economic Times, Trai also recommended that “at least 40 MHz” in the 3700-3800 MHz range, plus also “at least 40 MHz” in the 4800-4990 MHz range, is reserved for “low power indoor use for private captive network(s)” – just private cellular, in everyday parlance – particularly for mission-critical smart manufacturing. It stated: “The Authority recommends that certain spectrum be earmarked for… private networks to be assigned directly by DoT to… private network licensees.”
It also suggested DoT may also earmark “at least 400 MHz” in the 28.5-29.5 GHz range for private networks. In all cases, any provisions at these frequencies must be tallied with satellite activities, it said. It wants DoT to assess a potential clash with satellite services, by devising a digital map of the them, and demand among enterprises, by running a six-month review to poll companies about their desire and intentions with true vertically-licensed 5G.
It stated: “The authority recommends that demand assessment will provide the demand factor for direct spectrum assignment from DoT for establishment of private captive network. With such empirical assessment and DoT’s decision on the spectrum bands in which spectrum can be earmarked for private networks, the authority will provide its recommendations on [network requirements]… and pricing aspects.”
Any direct spectrum-licensing to enterprises will be on a five year deal, it suggests, and be more rigorous at the point of issue in terms of network footprint and remit. But the possibility of new ‘vertical’ provisions at 3700-3800 MHz, 4800-4990 MHz, and 28.5-29.5 GHz appear to be more remote; the upcoming 5G auction, including of key 3300-3670 GHz mid-band spectrum, will all go to operators in the first instance, at least.