TRAI, the telecom regulator of India, recently published recommendations on spectrum auction for IMT/5G services in India. While there are lots of noteworthy recommendations, we would limit this blog to discuss the DoT’s point of view, when they rejected some of the recommendations by TRAI for deploying Captive Private 5G Networks for Enterprises, esp. Industry 4.0.

First, let’s start with TRAI’s recommendations. TRAI in all had four major recommendations, which are:

  1. Enterprises should use a network slice from a Telco for a private network.
  2. Enterprises can ask Telcos to build a private network, using Telco’s spectrum.
  3. Enterprises can lease the spectrum from Telcos and build their own private networks.
  4. Enterprises can bid for spectrum, buy from DoT, and build their own private networks.

Now, let’s understand what DoT’s view on this.

DoT has in fact agreed to all the above recommendations except the last one where enterprises can’t bid for spectrum as of now to build their own networks.

Some section of media and users on different social platforms have quite generously criticized government of India for above decision. But in our view the criticism is completely wrong and requires further clarifications for sure.

First, DoT isn’t averse of building captive private networks (4G/5G) at all. In fact, by accepting three of four recommendations, DoT has in fact agreed to most of the TRAI’s recommendations.

Now why have some users been criticizing the DoT for this?

According to many users, having a private spectrum is necessary for enterprises to build private networks. Moreover, many believe that enterprises should be allowed to bid for spectrum auctions, buy and build their own private network. This is partially true.

Let’s see why!

In general, there are four major spectrum options available while deploying private networks.

The first one is enterprises can go to Telcos and lease their licensed spectrum and start building the private network right now itself. The second option would be that they can use un-licensed bands to build private networks (e.g., ISM or Unlicensed LTE/5G).

There’s a third option, which is based on shared spectrum, something which US is experimenting with CBRS under GAA, to uptake adoption of private network. In fact, many countries across globe are adopting shared spectrum routes these days.

The last option is dedicated spectrum for industrial use, where enterprises participate in spectrum auctions, bid, win, and build their own private network. This is mostly independent private network or standalone non-public private networks (NPN). Globally there is a significant trend seen esp. in countries such as US, Germany, Japan, Canada, and China, where enterprises bid, won spectrum, and building their own private 5G Networks (NPN).

According to DoT, they have already justified not accepting the TRAI’s recommendations on going with NPN. First, the market demand. DoT does want to explore market demand for adoption of NPN, before it accepts the recommendation, which I believe is quite fair. Second, DoT itself sees other options, such as leasing, or even using unlicensed bands is open for enterprises to build private networks, which are quite easy and less expensive (compared to private licensed spectrums).

In India, although public LTE widely considered successful, private LTE itself hasn’t seen much interest or there are very few large-scale deployments in past few years. There could be multiple reasons for that, including lack of business models or use cases, the path forward for enterprises would be to start with Private LTE with appropriate Use cases and lease or even do unlicensed band deployment, to test the waters, before they adopt Private 5G NPN approach. Private 5G NPN or licensed spectrum route has its own benefits but comes with prohibitive costs of ownership (licenses), lack of business models, and identifying appropriate use cases which generates quicker ROI. Enterprises in India surely not going to lose anything by adopting other alternatives of building private networks, and DoT is quite appropriate in its views.

Moreover, there’s another unseen benefit for Telcos here. Telcos can partner with enterprises right away and start building Private LTE, before the market gets overly competitive, where Telco sees competition from enterprises or private 5G operators. Telcos in India could have that advantage for some more time, until DoT decides next time to accept TRAI’s all the recommendations. 

(This post was originally published on LinkedIn in May 2022, before July-22 India 5G Spectrum Auctions. All views are personal.)

Tags : 5G5G SpectrumPrivate 5GPrivate 5G NetworksPrivate Networksspectrum auctions