The department of telecommunications (DoT) is in the process of formulating the National Telecom Policy (NTP) 2018 for which the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has issued a consultation paper and is currently soliciting responses. This will be the fifth of such policies, the previous ones being in 1994, 1999, broadband policy 2004, and 2012. The proposed policy will have new targets for broadband penetration, rural and urban broadband density and broadband speeds, as specified in the consultation paper. V Sridhar, an authority on telecom regulatory issues, also a faculty at IIIT-Bangalore tells Mini Tejaswi that the new policy should focus on four areas: creation of an apex body for spectrum management, encourage the use of dynamic spectrum sharing using associated infrastructure, migrate towards facility and service based licensing regime and a business friendly experimental licensing regime to encourage product development by startups. Excerpts:
Since spectrum is a critical national resource, how do you think it should be governed and managed in the future?
Spectrum management is of paramount importance as spectrum is a national resource. It is scarce and perishable and there it should be optimally used across space and time. Since government entities hold substantial amount of spectrum, which may not be optimally used across time and space, it needs better coordination. Realising the importance of such coordination, the communications convergence bill (2001) put into place the Spectrum Management Committee (SMC), with the Union cabinet secretary as its chairman and wireless adviser as the spectrum manager. This was part of the bill but it has not yet been enacted. An SMC has to be constituted involving secretary-level representatives from the department of telecommunication, ministry of electronics and information technology, ministry of information & broadcasting, department of defence, department of space, Indian Railways and the department of public enterprises for coordination of spectrum across departments and public sector organisations of the country. The SMC shall be empowered to make decisions on allocation of spectrum for different uses, inter-department coordination regarding spectrum issues and ensure that spectrum is optimally used across all government entities. The existing arrangement for the coordination of spectrum is extremely inefficient, as was evident in the much-delayed release of 1800 MHz by the department of defence for commercial mobile services.
What is the infrastructure required for flexible spectrum management?
There is a need for migrating towards flexible and dynamic use of spectrum for commercial mobile services. Through NTP 2012, Trai and the Government released spectrum trading, sharing and leasing guidelines, which have been welcome steps for the industry. With NTP 2018, we need to move one step further. Realising the need for flexible use, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US in coordination with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), has promoted spectrum sharing and the associated innovative technologies for meeting the growing needs of commercial radio spectrum. With the deployment of shared spectrum access and licensed shared access in Europe and the US respectively, dynamic spectrum sharing infrastructure is being created and dynamic sharing across spectrum holders are being promoted, including government spectrum. The first step towards this is the creation of a geo-location spectrum database much like most of the EU member countries, which keeps track of the band of spectrum that is being used at what time and at which location. This project will be taken up by the wireless planning and coordination (WPC) wing of DoT as soon as possible. All spectrum holders, including the ministry of defence, DoT and other ministries and departments shall work out the modus-operandi for sharing spectrum across time and space through this database for optimal utilisation of spectrum. This may also introduce “spectrum brokers” who can mediate for exchange of spectrum between interested parties.
Do you see any change in the telecom licensing regime?
Yes, rationalisation of the telecom licensing is critical. Having migrated from individual licenses to unified access service license,
to unified license, it is time that we move towards the twin licensing regime based on facility based operations (FBOs) and service based operations (SBOs) as is being practiced in countries such as Singapore. Along with this, the policy shall mandate open and non-discriminatory access to the facilities of the FBOs by the SBOs to prevent cartelization, collusion and vertical integration. The open access regulation, as is being implemented in European Union (EU), can provide us enough lessons. This will also enable differential regulatory levies for FBOs and SBOs and avoid double taxation. Much as in spectrum sharing, the policy shall enable co-investment and sharing of facility assets by FBOs so that risk exposure of FBOs are minimised.
Do you think NTP 2018 will boost the telecom start-up space?
Focus should be on the creation of business friendly processes for applying experimental licenses for development and testing of radio equipment and solutions, especially for India based Engineering R&D services companies. The process of obtaining experimental licensing (both radiating and non-radiating) for development and testing of innovative new telecom products and services is very cumbersome, lengthy and time consuming. The licenses are issued by regional licensing offices of WPC, which are not empowered to make any decision regarding allocation of frequencies for experimental use. The experimental licences for satellite testing are not given to private firms for development and testing. This prevents any global satellite company from outsourcing their development activities to an Indian firm. This also creates a huge barrier to overcome for Indian engineering R&D firms to get contracts from global companies for new product development and testing. With easement of procedures for licensing as has already been initiated by the DoT, the startups and telecom software companies in India can hope for developing and testing products in emerging areas such as internet of things, vehicular communication, machine-to-machine communication and so on. Telecom and internet are the backbone of our Digital India initiative. NTP 2018 should enable us to leapfrog in network readiness index jointly published by the World Economic Forum and INSEAD Business School from the current 91 (out of 139 countries) to the fifties!