The Department of Telecom (DoT) is divided over the allocation of backhaul airwaves to mobile operators, with half of them backing the auction route for selling microwave spectrum and the remaining half sticking to the current practice of allotment on a first-cum-first-served basis.
The latter is international practice. According to at least two persons privy to the development, an internal panel of the DoT that is working on a policy of allotting backbone airwaves has not been able to decide on the matter due to differing views of the members.
Microwave access, or MWA spectrum, is allocated to telecom operators for short distances to provide mobile services.
If the logjam on policy persists, it may have an impact on proposed spectrum auctions because the backhaul or backbone spectrum is an essential component for seamless operation of next-generation cellular services.
Some experts say unless a service provider has robust backhaul spectrum, providing 5G services can become a challenge for the company.
“Nowhere in the world is backhaul spectrum auctioned, and if we adopt that route it would not be in sync with the international best practices,” an official said, adding some officials are suggesting the auction route to avoid any scrutiny in the future.
A sector expert said spectrum was an intangible resource and should be given on administered low prices.
“If the demand for spectrum exceeds the supply, it should be auctioned. Currently, the demand does not exceed the supply,” said Mahesh Uppal, an independent telecom expert.
The Comptroller and Auditor General in its report in January pointed out MWA spectrum was allocated to a telecom operator in 2015 on a first-cum-first-served basis in contravention of the recommendation of a DoT committee, constituted in December 2012.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India in its recommendations in 2014 said the DoT should continue to allot backbone spectrum on a first-come-first-served basis.