Bharti Airtel has written to the telecom department, seeking a more flexible spectrum allocation policy that allows spectrum swapping apart from auction and trading for efficient utilisation of airwaves, officials aware of the matter told ET. A mobile operator should be allowed to swap airwaves held by it in one band with bandwidth available with the government in other bands, the country’s second largest telco has suggested, they said.
For instance, any telecom carrier should be allowed to switch some portion of its 1,800 MHz spectrum holdings with say the 800/900 MHz spectrum band available with the government, based on its business requirement while being revenue neutral or positive, it said.
Currently, such swapping is not permitted, and telcos can only sell airwaves within the same band to peers by way of trading. The validity of spectrum remains the same in case of trading.
So far, only Airtel has expressed a demand for flexible allocation while Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea haven’t, officials said.
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is analysing the issue, they said. Queries sent to Airtel remained unanswered at the time of going to press.
Airtel had earlier also written to the government, calling for a flexible spectrum allocation policy.
“We have to see if it is legally possible to take back auctioned airwaves before the validity of the spectrum ends,” said the official who requested anonymity.
“If a company wants to sell unused spectrum, it can do so by trading, depending on the demand by others,” the official added. Airtel in its plea has said that due to various factors, some quantum of airwaves remains unused by a telecom firm, but the same spectrum could be useful for another company.
“So, the companies should be allowed to swap their existing holding of auctioned spectrum in one band with the spectrum available with the government in another band that fits the business strategy of a telco,” Airtel is believed to have written to the government, an official said.
Such a swapping can be done by paying the difference in the value of the airwaves, calculated based on the last auction price, it has suggested. In case the auction determined price is more than one year old, prevailing market rates can be determined by indexing the last auction price with interest rate mentioned in the latest notice inviting application for auction, it said.
“By facilitating the same, better utilisation of spectrum resource can be ensured without any loss to the exchequer,” Airtel said, as per the official cited above.
ITU-APT Foundation of India (IAFI), a non-government telecom industry forum, has also written to telecom secretary Neeraj Mittal, seeking a new policy for spectrum swapping.
“Spectrum is a finite and valuable resource. Spectrum swapping allows mobile service providers to optimise their spectrum holdings, ensuring that the available spectrum is used efficiently,” IAFI president Bharat B Bhatia has said in the letter, a copy of which has been seen by ET.
IAFI has stressed that spectrum auctions are a significant source of revenue for governments. “A well-structured spectrum swapping policy can help ensure that spectrum remains in productive use and generates revenue through auctions and fees,” it said.
Further, swapping can prevent spectrum hoarding by encouraging operators to relinquish unused or underutilised frequencies. It has been highlighted to the government that with evolving mobile technologies, different spectrum bands become more suitable for specific applications. A spectrum swapping policy will allow operators to adapt to changing technology requirements quickly. For instance, as telcos roll out 5G, they may need to swap or acquire new spectrum bands optimised for this technology.