DoT Allots Spectrum to Telcos for 5G Trials

The Department of Telecommunications has allotted 5G trial spectrum in the 700 MHz, 3.5 GHz and 26 GHz bands, paving the way for Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea to partner with non-Chinese network vendors and develop India-relevant use cases on the next-gen fast wireless broadband technology.

The DoT’s wireless planning & coordination wing late Thursday evening allotted “100, 800 and 10 units of experimental 5G airwaves to the Big 3 telcos in the 3.5 GHz, 26 GHz and 700 MHz bands, respectively,” a senior telco executive said. The 5G trial airwaves have been allocated for six months, he added.

Allotment of 5G trial spectrum is particularly crucial for Jio and Airtel, who already have 5G-ready networks and have bulked up on crucial airwaves in the recent auction to cater to the surge in data usage amid Covid and also future-proof themselves ahead of 5G rollouts.

DoT’s decision also marks the first official allocation of 5G trial spectrum in the coveted 26 GHz millimetre wave (mmWave) band that ranges from 24.25 GHz to 28.5 GHz frequencies. Telcos have repeatedly underlined the criticality of the 26 GHz mmWave band for bolstering the 5G business case, without which deployment costs of fifth generation fast wireless broadband networks could jump several fold and make 5G services unaffordable to consumers in India.

Earlier this month, DoT had said telcos would be given experimental airwaves in mid-band (3.2-3.67 GHz), sub-GHz (700 MHz) and mmWave band (26 GHz) to run 5G trials for six months. So far, only mid-band spectrum in the 3.3-3.6 GHz bands have been earmarked by the government for 5G services. The department had also said that telcos would also be allowed to use their own airwaves in the 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2500MHz bands to conduct 5G trials.

For the 5G trials, the telcos have teamed up with global original equipment manufacturers and technology providers such as Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung and state-owned Centre for Development of Telematics. The 5G trials will happen in multiple locations, including Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Gujarat.

The names of Chinese network vendors, Huawei and ZTE, were missing from the original list of applications from telcos that were approved by the government earlier this month, sending a clear signal that the two gear makers would not be part of India’s 5G deployments as well.

Industry executives said the latest allotment of experimental 5G airwaves is also set to pave the way for inclusion of the coveted 26 GHz mmWave band and mid-band 5G spectrum (read: 3.3-3.67 GHz) in the updated National Frequency Allocation Plan — a key spectrum policy document that is undergoing revision.

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