Telecom operators and tech companies seem to be divided on the crucial issue of spectrum assignment for space-based communication services. Both parties have submitted contrasting views in response to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) consultation paper on “Assignment of Spectrum for Space-based Communication Services”.
Among the telcos, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea Limited (Vi) have suggested that the spectrum for satellite communication services should be allocated through auction, whereas Bharti Airtel has opposed this approach. According to Jio, spectrum assignment between space-based and terrestrial networks should prioritise public good and cater to the largest number of people. It argues that free and fair auctions are the most effective means to achieve this objective. Meanwhile, Vi proposes that the spectrum from 27.5 GHz to 29.5 GHz (including 27.5 GHz to 28.5 GHz) should be subjected to a fair and transparent auction in accordance with the Supreme Court Judgment of 2012 and the principle of “same service same rules”.
However, Airtel is of the view that the auction of satellite spectrum would place Indian players at a disadvantage compared to global competitors, which only pay an administrative fee for similar resources in other international markets. The company believes that conducting an auction and then creating a sharing mechanism is counterproductive.
Meanwhile, several other players, including OneWeb, Amazon’s Kuiper, Tata Group entities, Hughes Communications, Larsen & Toubro (L&T), and industry bodies, such as NASSCOM and the Broadband India Forum, oppose the allocation of spectrum for satellite communication services through auctions. They have expressed their demand for administrative allocation of space spectrum.
According to L&T, the field of satellite communication is inherently complex, and using auction-based models may lead to sub-optimal outcomes for the industry. Meanwhile, NASSCOM believes that satellite spectrum, unlike terrestrial spectrum, can be shared among multiple service providers without diminishing what is available to others. It argues that auctions are expensive and will create entry barriers and limit participation in the satcom sector to only a few players. Further, Tata Group entities, Nelco and Tata Play assert that auctioning spectrum would not be the optimal approach. According to Nelco, unlike the terrestrial spectrum, satellite spectrum can be simultaneously used by multiple service providers worldwide on a non-exclusionary basis.
With these divergent perspectives, DoT has expressed a preference for auctioning spectrum. As industry-wide discussions on the pros and cons of auctions continue in response to TRAI’s consultation paper, it remains to be seen what TRAI recommends in this regard and what DoT’s final verdict will be.