TRAI's Khullar lashes out at DoT for delay in giving spectrum to Airtel and Vodafone

NEW DEHI: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has lashed out at the Department of Telecom (DoT), noting that it is “unable to understand the reasons for the inordinate delay in the assignment of spectrum despite the clear provision in the notice inviting applications fo the assignment of spectrum and after the payment has been made by the licencees.


In a letter by TRAI chairman Rahul Khullar to Telecom secretary Rakesh Garg, it has been stated that the Authority is seriously concerned that this delay on the part of WPC in assigning spectrum in the 1800 MHz band may lead to a partial breakdown of services offered by  Airtel and  Vodafone especially in Delhi, the national capital.

This will inconvenience consumers greatly. Both these operators have around 20 million subscribers in Delhi which constitute around 45 per cent of the total subscriber base of Delhi Licence Service Area. It is apprehended that in December 2014, there will be a serious deterioration in the quality of service to these subscribers because of call drops, network congestions etc.


The Authority has suggested that the DoT should immediately call a meeting of both Telecom Service Providers and arrive at a feasible solution so that consumers' inconvenience can be avoided.


At the outset, Khullar said in the three metros of Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, the first two CMTS/UAS licences given in 1994 are due to expire on 29/30 November 2014. These "expiry" licensees were holding spectrum in the 900 MHz and 1800 MHz band which was put to auction in the February 2014 auctions. Except Loop which did not participate in the auctions, other "expiry" licensees.  and Vodafone were successful in re-acquiring spectrum in these LSAs.


In the Delhi LSA, Airtel and Vodafone, which were both having 8MHz in 900 MHz, could re-acquire only 6 and 5 MHz of 900 MHz band respectively in the auctions. Moreover, the spot frequencies now assigned to them are almost entirely different from the earlier different from the earlier assignment.  To make up for the shortfall int eh 900 MHz band, these TSPs have acquired additional spectrum in the 1800 MHz band, but it will require sufficient time to build a new network in the 1800 MHz spectrum.  In addition, in the Delhi LSA, Idea has acquired 5 MHz in the 900 MHz band, which has to be assigned to it after getting it vacated from these two TSPs.


As reported by these TSPs, this whole exercise of change over of frequencies will need to be carried out in two stages. First, these TSPs will have to build a new network of 1800 MHz spectrum by putting new BTSs and augmenting the capacity of the existing ones. In the second stage, they will have to reduce their holding in the

900 MHz band in steps and carry out swapping of spectrum andreleasing spectrum to the new entrant (Idea). Both of them will berequired to do rigorous planning and work in tandem. The above change  over  will be  a huge challenge  as all these changes are to be carried out on a live network catering to millions of subscribers and any lapse may result in service interruption and serious deterioration in quality of service.


Anticipating the above challenges in mind, the Authority, in its recommendations on 'Auction of Spectrum' dated 23 April 2012 had recommended that the 900 MHz spectrum be auctioned at least 18 months in advance so as to enable the winning bidders to be ready with the deployment plans. According to the NIA of 12 December 2013 for the auctions of February 2014 in case of bidders whose licenses were about to expire in 2014, the effective date of spectrum assignment in 1800 MHz band, will be the preferred date of allotment of spectrum indicated by the successful bidders which in no case shall be later than date of expiry of existing licenses in the respective service area.


Khullar noted that media reports had reported and Vodafone and Airtel had told the Authority that there has been inordinate delay in the assignment of spectrum in the 1800 MHz band. Vodafone says it has been assigned spectrum only on 10 October 2014, that is, after almost 8 months from the February 2014 auctions despite a number of representations to the WPC.


In its representation of 16 October, Vodafone has indicated that it would require at least one week for the deployment of new frequencies assigned in the 1800 MHz band and 9 weeks for freeing up the excess 3MHz in the 900 MHz band in a progressive manner.  Subsequently, it would require another three weeks' time for swapping of its frequencies in the 900 MHz band with Airtel.


However, only seven weeks are left before the expiry of licences, Khullar noted.


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