We have been talking about the absence of clear market-exit rules in the countries we work in. The examples keep piling up. Indian operator Aircel may have no other option but to shutter its operations following the collapse of its merger with Reliance Communications (RCom). The operator has debts of around US$3.7B and continues to make losses.
We’ve been saying for long that voice will be just another app. Reliance Jio has made it so. Therefore, we should take statements from the senior managers of that company seriously: Spectrum allocation will be the most critical element in adoption of fifth-generation or 5G mobile networks in India, Reliance Jio Infocomm president Mathew Oommen has said. The comment comes in the wake of the government last month setting up a high-level panel with a corpus of Rs 500 crore for research and development to facilitate rolling out of 5G-based services by 2020. “The government has set its focus on 5G.
The talk is about 2G networks being shut down and the frequencies repurposed for other uses. But of course this step will take a lot more time in countries where feature phones still predominate. Perhaps Myanmar will be the first. The first 2G network was commercially launched on the GSM standard in Finland by Radiolinja (now part of Elisa) in 1991. In December 2016, Australia’s largest mobile operator Telstra closed its 2G network, which was in operation for more than 23 years.
I have yet to receive a good answer to the question of why regulators require specific spectrum bands to be used for specific modes of “last mile” technologies. The most persuasive reasons have been tied to revenue maximization for government. The technical reasons are not very persuasive. It appears the Myanmar government is going to make USD 80 million x 3 (or 4) by giving this authorization. But anyway, it is good that 4G is being rolled out in this country where most phones are smartphones and are thus likely to be able to use 4G with just a change in settings.
Preparing for a TV interview on spectrum, I checked the website of the Telecom Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka to see if I could see the National Frequency Allocation Table (NFAT) or the Master Register, which used to be publicly available from 2003. It was not available for perusal on the TRC website. This is a legal requirement deriving from Sri Lanka’s international commitments under the GATS, the relevant article being: Any procedures for the allocation and use of scarce resources, including frequencies, numbers and rights of way, will be carried out in an objective, timely, transparent and non-discriminatory manner. The current state of allocated frequency bands will be made publicly available, but detailed identification of frequencies allocated for specific government uses is not required. It appears the we are in violation of our WTO commitments.
When I was looking for countries with smartphone penetration higher than Myanmar (78%), and of course there was Singapore. So with more than 80% smartphone penetration and the 2G networks about to be shut down and spectrum reallocated, it’s no wonder sales of 2G-only phones are being discontinued. Wonder who will be next? Singapore’s mobile operators will shut down their 2G networks from April 1 to allow IMDA to re-allocate spectrum for more advanced mobile services. IMDA is working with operators to facilitate the migration of remaining 2G users to 3G or 4G networks, allowing subscribers to upgrade their devices while maintaining their plans and monthly subscription costs.
Data usage is increasing in Myanmar at rates way beyond expectation. Operators are scrambling to meet demand first with 3G and now with 4G. Release of 1800 MHz spectrum will be critical in this regard. U Myo Swe, deputy director of the Posts and Telecommunications Department at the Ministry of Transport and Communications, said the 1800MHz band would be allocated to all operators in March. The spectrum will be made available to all operators equally, he said.
The government newspaper, the Ceylon Daily News, carried a well-written story on Google Loon, Rama Corp, and dangers to spectrum framework. “We first told the companies who had been with us throughout, that because they had supported us through difficult times, we would give them a base frequency of 7.5Mhz (900Mhz band). The other companies, like Suntel, Lanka Bell and Lanka Telecom were given a base of 2.5Mhz (800Mhz band).
I was asked about Loon by a journalist from Ceylon Daily News, the government newspaper. Here is the gist of what I said. Sri Lanka has fewer Internet users than we would expect for a country at its level of income and literacy. I am all in favor of experiments and innovations that seek to address this problem. Therefore I am in favor of Loon.
It was in 2010, that the Obama Administration announced a roadmap to release 500 MHz of spectrum. With the newest announcement, it looks like the targets are being met. The only thing worse than having no announced roadmap, is having a roadmap where the targets are not met. The Federal Communications Commission on Friday said it reached its greatest hopes for the amount of spectrum it would be able to offer to wireless carriers in an auction scheduled to begin in late May. Television stations flocked to provide the spectrum, promising to sell enough of the valuable airwaves they use for broadcast programming to reach the agency’s maximum target for the auction.
Economic Times reports three problems, of which it says the spectrum issue is the hardest to address. One of the primary concerns with the proposal is that the spectrum band required for the transmission is unavailable. According to DoT, Google has sought a band of 700 to 900 MHz, which is occupied by telecom service providers. Union communications and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad confirmed that there are technical glitches in Project Loon. “The proposed frequency band to be used in the Loon Project of Google is being used for cellular operations in India and it will lead to interference with cellular transmissions,” he said in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha.
Just a few sentences but this is a new solution to a real problem. I propose to form a special purpose company under the Information and Communication Technology Authority (ICTA) to bring about sharing of telecommunication resources efficiently and to protect air waves and the environment. All the fiber optics owned by telecommunication companies and other authorities including the Ceylon Electricity Board, Road Development Authority and Sri Lanka Railways as well as spectrum and mobile towers are to be brought into this company. Here are my answers to a journalist’s questions: 1) The budget has proposed the creation of a special purpose company under the ICTA to own and operate telecom backbone infrastructure. Is this practically possible?
Spectrum is a scarce resource, made even more scarce by the difficulties governments have in refarming it. Efficient use of spectrum should be a high priority. It is obvious that allowing firms to use market mechanisms to use the resource more efficiently is a good thing. The question is why this is not done. One part of the answer is the need of governments to maximize revenues from spectrum.
LIRNEasia’s Senior Research Fellow Payal Malik has fired a major volley in India’s spectrum debate aimed at former Minister Kapil Sibal. There is interesting discussion on her Facebook page. A competitive spectrum auction process facilitates the assigning of licences to the most efficient producers, aiding efficient aggregation of spectrum, and ensures efficient allocation of spectrum into services consumers value the most, thereby expanding the supply and reducing the prices of the wireless services most valued by consumers. Simply put, if tariffs didn’t go up in 2010 after the 3G auctions and in 2014 after the 2G auctions (which raised $14.5 billion and $10 billion, respectively) despite India having the cheapest data packages in any of the emerging economies, they should not go up now.
I’ve been asked by several people to comment on the choice of a Japanese standard for digital broadcasting in Sri Lanka, as part of the process of clearing the 700 MHz band of analog TV broadcasting and making the freed up spectrum available for more productive uses. I have not commented, partly because I lack the time to research the subject. But I have not made the effort to reallocate priorities in order to make time for this task because I know that refarming (which is what the digital transition is in essence) is inherently problematic and hard to do. There are pros and cons associated with all standards and there are vested interests that benefit or lose from any standards decision. I have lived long enough to know that there is no objective and undisputed superior standard.
Usually one has only the time stipulated in the consultation paper to prepare a response. In this case, the Chair is giving extra time to intervenors to get organized. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) chair Rahul Khullar on Wednesday said the authority would come out with a consultation paper on broadband next month. The objective of the broadband consultation paper would be to revisit the broadband target identifying right broadband technologies, involving private and public participation, and achieving new milestone in a cost-effective way. Speaking at an ASSOCHAM event today TRAI chairman said India needs new policies in place to achieve the goal set by the new government.