India likely to see 10x increase in 5G spectrum

Availability of 5G devices by bands | Source: GSA

The amount of 5G spectrum set apart for 5G wireless services in India is likely to increase by ten times or more, going by comments made by various government officials at a telecom event today.

At present, the amount of 5G spectrum that has been set apart for 5G in India is 275 MHz, which is only slightly more than the 200 MHz being used for 4G.

This is based on a statement by India’s telecom minister last year, where he said that India has so far decided to allocate 5G spectrum to companies in the 3,300 MHz to 3,600 MHz — or about 300 MHz (0.3 GigaHertz) in all.

However, K Ramchand, Member (Technology) at Department of Telecom, said his department will soon start discussions with Department of Space to reallocate some more frequencies from satellite use to ground/telecom use. DDG Kishore Babu too said people will get to hear some news on this front ‘soon’.

Department of Space currently uses spectrum in two ways — one is for broadcasting — which means that a satellite transmits signals across India or Asia on a particular frequency. This frequency cannot be used for telecom services as both signals will clash.

However, Department of Space also uses huge chunks of spectrum for exchanging signals between ground-based large dish antennas (earth stations) and satellites in space. This spectrum can be used for ground-based 5G services in all the places where ground stations are not located.

At present, there are only 5 or 6 such earth stations in India at various places, opening up the possibility of using this spectrum for ground-based services in other areas.

According to K Ramchand, DoT will discuss with DoS the possibility of creating a no-use zone of 2.5 km in radius around these earth stations, and in exchange, get permission to use that spectrum for 5G in all other parts of India.

Similarly, UK Srivastava, DDG at the Government of India’s Telecom Engineering Center, expressed his hope that as much as 11,500 MHz of spectrum can be freed up for 5G in India.

He pointed out that the last World Radiocommunication Conference or WRC has identified 17,800 MHz of spectrum as potentially usable for 5G, only around 14,750 MHz out of that is likely to be made available across different countries.

“In my opinion, India can have 11.5 GHz in mm band out of these bands. It depends on how the discussion shapes up in this country with those who are not using it so efficiently,” he said. “I am happy to note that ISRO has come around to a 2.5 km radius of the earth station,” he added.

The ball-park projection of 11,500 MHz is 40 times more than the current allocation of 275 MHz for 5G services, and could have a major impact on spectrum prices as well as the end-user experience for these services.

Even if a single operator is able to get only 200 or 300 MHz of spectrum, it would be able to offer fiber-broadband like speeds and latencies on 5G wireless connections, including speeds of up to 1000 Mbps (1 Gbps).

Speaking at the same conference, representatives of the Global mobile SuppliersĀ Association or GSA projected that India would need 6,290 MHz of 5G spectrum to meet its needs.

According to the association, which represents various telecom equipment makers, India could meet its requirement by opening up spectrum in the 26 and 28 GHz bands.

A total of around 3,250 MHz can be made available in the 26 GHz bands using the buffer arrangement around ISRO earth stations. However, industry officials pointed out that this will only be enough for 3 players at 1,000 MHz each, and if there’s a fourth player — say BSNL — you will need to look at the nearby 28 GHz band.

In addition, another 2,500-3,000 MHz can be freed up in the 40 GHz band, but it will not be needed at least in the first phase.

ISRO is currently using the various chunks of the 20 GHz to 30 GHz bands (see chart) for satellite to earth station communication.

5G spectrum possibilities in India | Source: GSA

It suggested that companies should be given 80-100 MHz each in the 3.3-4.2 GHz and 800 to 1000 MHz of spectrum in the 26-28 GHz band or nearby for high-capacity deployments.

GSA also said that at present, the number of devices that support 5G in the 3.3 GHz to 4.2 GHz band is 202, and those that support 5G in the 26-28 GHz bands is around 36.

As for networks, the highest number of deployments at present are in the 3.3 to 4.2 GHz bands, followed by the 26-28 GHz bands.

Network deployments | Source: GSA