The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) on Friday suggested that the Indian Railways be given 5 megahertz (MHz) of the premium 700 MHz spectrum band, a third of the quantity sought by the transporter.
Trai said the spectrum may be assigned on an administrative basis, for captive use only and not to offer any commercial services such as Wi-Fi onboard. The 700 MHz spectrum has high indoor penetration. Of the 35 MHz (paired) spectrum available in 700 MHz band, 5 MHz (paired) spectrum may be allocated to the Railways for implementing modern signaling system, Internet of Things-based asset monitoring services, passenger information display system and live feed of video surveillance of a few coaches at a time, Trai said in its recommendation.
Trai suggested that spectrum charges be levied on “formula basis” as prescribed by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) for royalty charges and licence fee for captive use. The remaining 30 MHz (paired) in 700 MHz band may be put up for bidding in the forthcoming auction. The regulator said the 1.6 MHz spectrum already assigned to the Railways in the 900 MHz band may be taken back after migration to the long-term evolution-based network is complete.
Trai felt that since the Railways would use the assigned the spectrum along its rail track network and stations only, the DoT may explore the possibility of assigning the same spectrum to other entities. The regulator had sought stakeholders’ comments on whether the Railways should be given the spectrum for free, many of whom said no.
Releasing its recommendations on allotment of spectrum to the Railways for public safety and security services, Trai noted that the telecom department in February this year had informed that Railways has proposed to install an ultra-high-speed Long Term Evolution-based corridor along their network for ‘train-ground’ and ‘train-train’ communication.
The Railways had urged the telecom department to reserve 15 MHz of spectrum in 700 MHz band for the purpose, and to start with 10 MHz being allocated free of cost. The Railways had emphasised that the proposal was devoid of any commercial gain, and instead aimed at enhancing security and passenger amenities.
The government then requested Trai to provide its recommendations on administrative allotment of spectrum to the Railways and the quantum, price, appropriate frequency band for the same.
The 700 MHz spectrum went unsold in the 2016 auctions as the operators felt that the base price was too high. Trai in its recommendations for the upcoming auctions has reduced the price of this spectrum by 40 per cent to Rs 6,568 crore per MHz all-India from Rs 11,485 crore in 2016.
Globally, countries like China, Japan, Switzerland, Australia, France, Spain, Qatar and the UK are exploring the possibility of migrating to the 700 MHz band for railways; South Korea is the only exception that has moved its railway services on this premium band.