Will India’s satellite spectrum auction plans get off the ground?

Will India’s satellite spectrum auction plans get off the ground?

The Chairman of regulator the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), PD Vaghela, has been widely quoted in recent Indian press reports as saying that TRAI is likely to come up with a model for the auction of satellite spectrum.

If, and it’s still a big if, such an auction were to go ahead, likely participants could include Bharti Group-backed OneWeb, SpaceX’s Starlink, Tata Group‘s Nelco, and Reliance Jio’s satellite unit.

The response has been predictably mixed. Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea have apparently been pressing for an auction but a major player, Bharti, does not want one, not least because, it says, such spectrum has not been auctioned anywhere in the world. Also, according to Bharti Group chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal quoted in the Financial Express, “this is not terrestrial spectrum being used. This is not being used in all parts of the country. This will only be used in two landing stations.”

Broadband India Forum (BIF), an association of technology players like Google and Hughes, also sees auctioning as counter-productive, pointing out that satellite spectrum is not exclusively assigned to an operator, but usually coordinated internationally and shared among multiple operators for different orbital slots and all types of satellites.

Bharti seems to be right to suggest that India would be the first country to go down this route. Countries like the US, Thailand and Brazil have apparently attempted to auction satellite spectrum but returned to an administrative allocation system.

However, the TRAI chairman has insisted that an auction would be designed in a way that attracted investments rather than deterring them.

TRAI is now said to be in discussions with experts and regulators worldwide about a suitable model. A consultation paper will follow these discussions.

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