Mobile phone operators on Thursday urged the telecom department (DoT) to reconsider administrative allocation of 5G spectrum to large technology companies to set up captive networks, arguing that it defies level-playing field and facilitates their backdoor entry to become service providers.
“Any consideration of administrative allocation of spectrum for such (captive) networks is fundamentally against principles of level-playing field and effectively provides a backdoor entry to big technology players to provide 5G services and solutions to enterprises in India without equivalent regulatory compliance and payment of levies that telecom service providers are subjected to,” Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) director general SP Kochhar said in a four-page letter to telecom secretary K Rajaraman.
Under the new regulation, enterprises can directly acquire 5G spectrum from DoT for a nominal fee to set up captive non-public network (CNPN).
COAI said this would encourage large tech companies to set up parallel pan-India captive 5G networks, and argued that companies such as Amazon, Intel, Cisco and Microsoft are capable of offering services such as setting up captive 5G networks similar to what carriers plan to offer.
“It is amply evident from the websites of various companies, claiming to be capable of setting up and managing such networks for providing 5G services over the cloud to enterprises, (that they will be) effectively competing directly with telecom operators in the enterprise connectivity space,” it argued in the letter to the telecom secretary.
As per telcos, administrative allocation of airwaves would allow tech companies to offer similar services as telecom companies, but at far lesser prices, given that they won’t need pay top dollars at the auction to buy airwaves.
As a result, this would hurt the enterprise service plans of telcos – expected to contribute 40% to their revenue in the 5G era – and hence, dampen demand for critical C-band (3.3-3.6 GHz) airwaves in the upcoming 5G auction, they said.
The telecom carriers called out DoT for what they claims is “preferential treatment” to technology players by allowing them to set up captive or private 5G networks for companies.
COAI, citing a study, further said there was no evidence that if spectrum is set aside for enterprises, it would do any good from a spectrum policy perspective.
“We urge the government to kindly relook into the concept of captive non-public network (CNPN) and ensure licensing and regulatory level-playing field between telecom operators and enterprises/tech companies while safeguarding interests of national security, and revenue to the exchequer,” Kochhar said in the letter.
The government has decided not to charge enterprises any licence or entry fees for direct spectrum allotments to set up captive 5G networks but only a nominal processing fee of Rs 50,000. This has also irked telcos.
Broadband India Forum (BIF), which has been aggressively lobbying for technology players, on its part, has said DoT’s move to first gauge demand for spectrum for private captive networks and then seek the telecom regulator’s views is a “clever” move to delay allotting spectrum to enterprises and give telcos a first mover advantage.