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3G auction may be delayed again
The auction of third generation spectrum (3G), vital for high-end services such as ultra-fast internet on mobile, which is slated to begin on January 14, is likely to be deferred by a ‘few weeks’, as the Department of Telecom (DoT) and the defence ministry will require more time to coordinate and assign the airwaves vacated by the armed forces, ET has learnt.

While the armed forces have agreed to vacate 25 MHz of 3G spectrum for the auctions by December 7, officials in the know said it could take ‘several weeks’ for both ministries to work out the specific frequencies or sub-bands of these airwaves, which can be assigned to telcos.

This could push the auction process to mid-February ‘09, an official with direct knowledge of the developments said, while adding: “The focus is to ensure that the auctions are held before the end of this fiscal. The DoT will meet the finance ministry’s target and ensure that the proceeds from the sale of airwaves are included in the government receipts for this year.”

The DoT is also considering an industry demand that the 3G auctions take place only after sector regulator TRAI issues its recommendations on a slew of policy related issues.

These include the methodology to be adopted for allotting 2G spectrum, if future telecom licences are to be delinked from spectrum and also whether new entrants who successfully bag third generation airwaves will be given 2G airwaves on a priority basis.

With TRAI set to come out its recommendations only by December-end or early-January, this factor, too, could extend the auction dateline. Besides, TRAI is also examining a proposal by a DoT committee, which had said all future 2G allocations should be on an auction basis, where the base price for this sale is linked to final price that 3G auctions fetch.

TRAI’s views on this issue is vital, as it will have a bearing on the 3G auctions. Meanwhile, after reaching an agreement with the defence forces to vacate 3G airwaves, DoT is now set to waive off all spectrum usage charges it has imposed on the armed forces. Both ministries are slated to meet soon to work out the fine print on the waiver, an official aware of the development said.

“In addition to an assurance from DoT that it would compete the alternate network fibre cable for the armed forces by December 2012, the waiver of spectrum usage charges and also a commitment from the communications ministry to set up an defence spectrum band, were the other factors that enabled both ministries to end the standoff over the vacation of the airwaves,” this official added.

A defence spectrum band involves classifying all airwaves used by the forces into a single-band. With an exclusive spectrum band, the armed forces will develop or buy technologies that work only in their band, ensuring greater national security.

Europe and the United States have divided all their spectrum, or airwaves on which signals used by communication, broadcasting and wireless internet travel, into civilian and military bands. In India, the proposal to have a defence spectrum band was first mooted in 2005, but was put on the backburner.

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