TRAI wants to open up infrastructure and spectrum sharing

TRAI recommends opening up infrastructure and spectrum sharing

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on Wednesday recommended that all telecoms licencees be allowed to passively and actively share all infrastructure and spectrum in the name of promoting optimum resource utilization.

Indian telco players have for some time sought permission to share inter-band spectrum and leasing of spectrum to third parties. Under existing rules, active infrastructure sharing is limited to antennas, feeder cables, Node Bs, RANs and transmission systems. For spectrum sharing, only spectrum trading and intra-band spectrum sharing is allowed.

As far back as 2021, the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) has proposed allowing telecoms service providers across all categories to share whatever telecom infrastructure they want to optimise resources.

TRAI first launched a consultation into the issue of infrastructure and spectrum sharing in January 2023. Since then, the Indian government passed its updated Telecommunications Act, 2023, which includes a provision that says the Central Government “may permit the sharing, trading, leasing and surrender of assigned spectrum, subject to the terms and conditions, including applicable fees or charges, as may be prescribed.”

TRAI’s new recommendations provide details on how that will actually work.

For a start, TRAI says telecoms licencees of all stripes should be allowed to share all types of active infrastructure elements that they own and operate. The same also goes for passive infrastructure, which includes buildings, towers, electrical equipment (including battery and power plant), dark fiber, duct space, right of way, etc.

The recommendations also say that for future projects initiated under the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) or Digital Bharat Nidhi, the DoT should include a provision in the agreement that the universal service provider (USP) cannot refuse to share the passive infrastructure laid under the project, provided that at least two other telecom service providers request to do so. The USP must also share it on a transparent and non-discriminatory basis.

Meanwhile, the DoT should explore the feasibility of instructing USPs for existing USOF projects to also share passive infrastructure on the same basis.

TRAI also recommends that telcos that have built mobile network infrastructure in remote areas in India with full or partial funding from the Government under USOF or Digital Bharat Nidhi must allow other mobile operators to roam onto its network for an initial period of three years.

The TRAI recommendations also permit leasing of access spectrum, as well as inter-band access spectrum sharing between telcos, whether they do the latter by pooling spectrum in different frequency bands through common RANs or allowing partners to use their RANs.

TRAI also suggests the DoT explore the possibility of implementing authorized shared access (ASA)-based spectrum sharing in India, under which, the spectrum assigned to government agencies or other non-telco entities in globally harmonized bands for IMT services can be assigned to access service providers as secondary users.

The regulator said that implementing its infrastructure sharing recommendations would help telcos realise greater cost efficiencies and improved time to market. TRAI also said the USOF-related recommendations would extend the benefits of telecoms coverage in underserved areas to multiple telcos through effective utilization of government-funded infrastructure. It also said the mandatory roaming rule for remote areas “are aimed at reducing the hardship being faced by the subscribers due to connectivity issues of the home network provider.”

The recommendations still have to be reviewed and approved by the DoT’s Digital Communications Commission (DCC) before they take effect.

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