In FY2019-20, 5G spectrum would be auctioned in India and Indian regulators need to learn from European regulators related to 5G auctions to maximise 5G spectrum usage and help operators with capex savings. Regulators also need to focus on twin objectives of commercial success and public welfare across spectrum bands so that it is beneficial to all stakeholders.
Indian regulators should focus on: Contiguous Block; Auction in lots of 10 MHz; Joint Release of 3400 – 3600 MHz and 3600 – 3800 MHz and Plan for operators to get 80/100 MHz spectrum.
Contiguous block: In Europe, frequencies such as 700 MHz, 3400 – 3800 MHz and 24.25 – 27.5 GHz are used for early 5G NR deployments. In 3400 – 3800 MHz, the European regulators are enabling contiguous blocks of at least 80/100 MHz to support 5G use cases and maximise efficient spectrum use. This should be true for all spectrum bands so that operators can plan 5G operations in a coordinated way without additional investment.
The demand for data rates per user are in the order of 100 Mbps, this needs to be supported by contiguous blocks to provide the expected data rates to users. Large contiguous blocks also helps in improving operators business case by letting the operator support a given requirement of data traffic/km2 with a smaller number of cells thereby resulting in capex saving.
Auction in lots of 10 MHz: Spectrum should be released in lots of 10 MHz, leaving operators (bidders) to decide how many lots to buy through the auction. Operators can bid for lots of 10 MHz depending upon 5G use cases they are planning to deploy and depending upon their business model.
Joint release of 3400 – 3600 MHz and 3600 – 3800 MHz: The regulators should jointly release spectrum bands such as 3400 – 3600 MHz. Non-contiguous aggregation of two (or more) channels will always result in a loss of usable spectrum, and hence a degradation in performance when compared to a contiguous block of the same amount of spectrum. This will help in better planning of spectrum bands by the operators.
Plan for operators to get 80/100 MHz spectrum: The regulator should strive to make available enough spectrum so that all mobile operators wishing to do so, can get access to at least 80/100 MHz so that they can plan their 5G use cases. For e.g. a 100 MHz block gives 2.7x increase in capacity in the cell above a 50 MHz block, while maintaining a 100 Mbps cell edge throughput. Large bandwidth also gives operators better means of supporting URLLC (Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communications) applications and is also good for reliability and latency.
It would be good for the operators, if Indian regulator can learn from European regulators so that 5G ecosystem can be deployed at the earliest to meet public welfare objectives across spectrum bands.