India’s big three operators – Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea – have formed a united front against permitting non-telecom companies to establish private 5G networks.
Financial Express reports that the operators have warned TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) that they will limit their participation in the regulator’s upcoming 5G spectrum auction en bloc if it allows non-telecom firms to bid, arguing that this would impact their revenue and therefore make it financially unviable for them to invest in 5G spectrum.
Private networks enable corporations to set up their own Wi-Fi and data networks without the involvement of an operator – although this would still be required for external communication. Operators are concerned about a drop-off in revenue from the enterprise sector given that the benefits of 5G are largely focused on automation, IoT connectivity and M2M communications, as opposed to retail subscribers.
Additionally, if TRAI permits private networks then the corporations involved may not be required to bid in the auctions at all and instead be allocated spectrum holdings at the auction-determined price.
Financial Express cited an executive from an unnamed Indian operator as saying: “It is like non-telecom firms getting into telecom business sans the regulatory maze. We buy spectrum through auctions and comply with conditions like roll-out obligations, security of network and other compliances mandated by the Department of Telecommunications. These conditions would not apply to the corporates, so where’s the level playing field?”
The operators’ warning is pertinent as TRAI is due to provide its recommendations for the 5G spectrum auction to India’s government imminently. Regulations around licensing would need to change to allow corporations to build private networks, as bandwidth can only currently be used for providing services directly to customers.
While there are certainly use cases for private 5G networks in India, operator partnerships may be a more appealing prospect for enterprises given their relative lack of experience and assets.