India’s broadcasting sector may take a severe beating if the Department of Telecom (DoT) does not ensure a 100 MHz guard band between the proposed spectrum for 5G telecom services and the spectrum already in use for satellite television.
This conflict is centred around the C-band or mid-band spectrum band 3,300 MHz-4,200 MHz. Currently, the Indian broadcasters use the allotted the C-Band of 3,700 MHz-4,200 MHz.
Owing to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) guidelines that proposes 3,600 MHz as the upper limit for telecom companies, the government had originally kept 3,300-3,600 MHz for 5G allocation.
But, as per the revised National Frequency Allocation Plan- 2018(NFAP-18), 3,300 MHz - 3,670 MHz and bands maybe even beyond that are being earmarked for 5G use.
The Indian broadcasters are afraid that if these revised guidelines were enacted in the upcoming auctions, it will disrupt their services and hurt the end-consumer.
The broadcasters claim that despite writing to the DoT several times, they’re still awaiting the government’s response. On the other hand, they feel betrayed by their licensor I&B Ministry.
According to several broadcasters, I&B Ministry wrote to DoT on the impact of 5G deployment on the DD’s terrestrial frequencies but chose not to take up the issues faced by the satellite broadcasters to whom they are the licensors. Broadcasters have been taking up this issue repeatedly with the I&B Ministry, DoT and TRAI.
Sources in the I&B Ministry told BestMediaInfo.com that it had written to DoT about the broadcasters’ concern as well. “We do not see any reason why the DoT will not consider the concerns which are genuine. Having said that, the final decision will be taken by the government after thoroughly examining every point of view,” the source said.
Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) last week organised an Open House Discussion where the regulator heard the interventions made by close to 200 industry representatives for over nine hours.
At the OHD, when the question regarding the 3,300-3,670 MHz band came up, Amitabh Kumar, Head of Technology and Broadcasting, Zee Network, intervened by questioning the entire process.
Earlier, the frequency bands were recommended by TRAI and then they were accepted by the government. After that, the government used to go back to TRAI for pricing and process of auction.
This time around, the Cabinet Committee first decided the bands to be put up for the auction without TRAI’s recommendation and asked the regulator to work on the pricing and other processes.
“So, there was never a consultation about the magnitude of the guard band because the additional 70 MHz was never recommended by the regulator,” Kumar said.
70 MHz were added because cellular operators were pushing for more spectrum and the government accepted their demand without consulting TRAI and without it being in the national frequency allocation plan, said a broadcast industry veteran who did not want to be named.
India has signed the treaty in agreement with ITU guidelines, which sets 3,600 MHz as the upper limit for telecom companies in India. Many experts having decades of experience working with ITU said that it will be a violation of that treaty.
Independent consultant Rajesh Mehrotra, who has been associated with ITU for over 25 years, intervened at the OHD saying that the ITU guidelines must be followed in spirit and letter.
“If ITU’s recommendations, where India is a signatory, are being side-lined, India will lose the high capacity satellite systems in 28GHz bands forever,” said an industry veteran.
“The 3,600-3,700 MHz band is very critical as a guard band and every country has recognised that. Elsewhere, either they have left this band or they have compensated the satellite television broadcasters. The worry is that the problem itself is not being recognised in India,” Zee’s Kumar said during his intervention.
TRAI officials asked Kumar after his intervention to submit his concerns in writing. For the record, IBDF made a detailed submission in response to the consultation paper.
Broadcasters are hopeful that TRAI takes up their cause firmly with the DoT and comes up with solutions acceptable to all the stakeholders.
“This will have to be dealt with using strong conviction. This is a kind of Bombay club being enacted again, where 3-4 players want to gobble everything,” said an independent consultant.
“When things come from the top, like cabinet committee or Prime Minister Office, they will never come up and say that let us not auction that band. We will have to see where do they relent,” the consultant added.
From the OHD, it was clear that the three big telecom operators - Jio, Airtel and Vodafone - wanted auction prices to be slashed by 10%. They don’t want new players to come in. The third and important point is that they want maximum spectrum so that the demand is less and the prices will be low.
“They want to fix the entire system to get the spectrum for 40 years in every possible band at low prices,” an industry analyst told BestMediaInfo.com.
Speaking with BestMediaInfo.com, TRAI Chairman PD Vaghela said, “Spectrum allotment is the prerogative of DoT and they have provided a 30 MHz guard band. We initiated the whole consultation process basis the specifications provided by the Ministry. Now that the broadcast sector has raised the issue, we will examine that also. We will ask the DoT to share the report if they have done any study suggesting a 30 MHz guard band is sufficient to protect the interests of broadcasters. Any final decision will be taken after appropriately examining the issue.”
“We heard so many contradictory views even within TSPs on all the key points including the need of e-auction despite the Supreme Court’s clear order that there should be an auction. Amid all the contradictory views, we have to take the decision which is the best for the country and the industry. Not everything they say we are going to accept or reject. Rather the decision will be taken in order to ensure that the sector grows further. Some players may not like to let others enter the sector. But TRAI has to take a call on this,” Vaghela added.
“TRAI is a professional body having experts and expertise from all over the world and it decides purely on the basis of the consultation process. The regulator cannot be narrowminded and will give solutions on every point which are largely acceptable to all the concerned stakeholders,” the TRAI Chairman concluded.
Interruption in services
Broadcasters argue that the disruption occurs due to several reasons.
The power at which the 5G terrestrial signals operate is much higher than the power received from a satellite. This leads to the overloading of the low noise blocks or LNBs (the small device on the top of your satellite dish) of satellite antennas which stop receiving signals.
Also, simultaneous use of the band by Satellite and Terrestrial 5G services is not possible. Telecom companies say that the broadcasters can leave 100mHz in between and start using the transponders above 3,800 MHz leaving enough space to account for Out of band emissions (OOBE). But the broadcasters say that it is a fallacious solution because at this level, the low noise blocks (LNBs) will get overdriven with high terrestrial signals and irrespective of frequency bands will stop functioning.
They contend that their services will be interrupted and some argue that the problems might have started already on the bordering spectrums. Their services were hindered back when the trials for 5G started.
“5G tests started around June 16, 2021. Around June 25, 2021 to June 30, 2021, almost all broadcasters faced interference on downlink frequencies around 3780MHz and 3775MHz from approximately 9 pm to 3 am, for about 6 hours. We informed NOCC as well. This is the displacement of one sector by another sector. How can they let this happen?” a broadcasting executive from a top firm said on the condition of anonymity.
The Indian broadcasters contend that even after being a prominent stakeholder in the matter, they have been unable to make their voices heard.
“Even after we contacted the concerned authorities to let us be a part of the 5G trials, they did not listen” The executive added. “And the trials went through without our participation, last June.”
And uncannily enough, the timing of the trials and the signal interruption coincided. Over 900 licensed satellite channels all over India operate in the 3700-4000mHz, the band most in danger from the OOBEs.