Trai looking at easing spectrum sharing rules

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) will issue a consultation paper on easing rules on sharing of spectrum between mobile phone companies to ensure more efficient use of the scarce natural resource and offer additional monetising opportunities to carriers.

“Trai is coming up with a consultation paper on dynamic spectrum sharing to allow telecom operators to leverage evolving technologies and be able to monetise airwaves, and discourage idle airwaves,” a senior official told ET. The official added that dynamic spectrum sharing would also facilitate faster 5G deployment.

Unlike spectrum trading, dynamic spectrum sharing is a kind of

allows telecom companies to share their unused airwaves with their peers on a real-time basis, allowing intra-circle rights, experts said. Currently, telcos are allowed to share spectrum between them in a licensed service area (LSA) where both have and use airwaves in the same band.

Sharing is not permitted if both telcos have spectrum in different bands. Thus, spectrum leasing is not allowed. Trai is of the view that the current rules may need to evolve and is studying the matter on a suo moto basis.

The regulator is expected to draw up a comprehensive consultation paper before the end of the year and may seek views on whether to allow telecom carriers to use any frequency bands without restrictions, within a circle, with a technology-agnostic approach. It will include the mechanics of allowing this.

“So, for example, a telco which has unused airwaves at a specific time of the day or night should be able to share it with any other operator on a real-time basis,” said the official. This can be through temporary pacts between multiple telcos to use spectrum dynamically, based on their capacities and utilisation levels.

Once allowed, the new framework may look at dynamically monitoring resource allocation, network capacity, user behaviour, and usage timeslots, and can be brought down to micro levels such as area- and time-wise sharing.

This would allow for a much more efficient use of spectrum between two or more telcos that can use the same frequency bands and would be able to earn money from such an active leasing arrangement.

“Unlike sharing between licensed entities or assisted sharing, dynamic sharing could effectively allow telecom service providers to have a new revenue stream,” the official said.

Experts believe that dynamic spectrum sharing would be a step in the right direction, but the regulator would also look into the challenges such as active monitoring, revenue sharing, and compliances.

Mahesh Uppal, a telecom analyst and director at ComFirst India, said dynamic spectrum sharing is imperative, given the competitive scenario and possible with fast-evolving technologies. “Spectrum is a finite and tangible resource, and the broader objective is to use it effectively,” he said. “If spectrum is allocated exclusively to a single entity, and is not optimally used, then it’s no less than a waste of natural resources.”

However, Uppal said that there would be a need to overhaul existing licensing conditions too as they are based on the exclusive allocation of spectrum to a single entity.

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