Broadband India Forum (BIF) on Friday said the allocation of direct spectrum to private enterprises does not offer a backdoor entry for them to get 5G spectrum, rebutting the claims of telecom operators as "misleading" and "misinformed".

The tech lobby, which counts TCS, Cisco, Google and Amazon, among its members, says it is apparent that certain quarters and incumbents with vested interests are attempting to derail this progressive development through irrational, misleading and misinformed claims for a level playing field between the vastly different service domains of public networks and captive non-public networks.

This comes days after Adani Data Networks, a wholly owned subsidiary of ports-to-power conglomerate Adani Group, applied for the upcoming 5G auction that will see 72,097.85 MHz of spectrum going under the hammer.

Earlier this year, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) recommended a certain amount of exclusive spectrum to be earmarked for private 5G networks. As per TRAI's recommendations, non-telecom enterprises would be allocated 5G spectrum for building their private networks for data needs. TRAI, however, added that such enterprises can take spectrum on lease from telecom operators also.

Incumbent telecom operators have opposed the concept of private networks, since enterprise data revenue is expected to be the biggest chunk of operator revenues under 5G. That will take a hit if large enterprises set up private networks.

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which represents telecom operators like Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea, had earlier urged the government to not reserve any spectrum that has been identified for the use of commercial services for private or captive networks.

"All the four methods approved by the Union Cabinet for obtaining spectrum for captive private 5G (non-public) networks have the involvement of telcos. Even the fourth option of direct assignment of spectrum to the enterprises does not preclude the option/possibility that enterprises buying the spectrum directly from the government can have the captive private network built by the telcos for them," Broadband India Forum says in a statement.

"This gives them undue advantage over the private enterprises. So, in actuality, this is a case of non-level playing field in the telcos' favour. Effectively, the telcos have a share of each piece of the overall pie and in no way, such a move inhibits their business plans as being incorrectly stated. On the contrary, there is merit in calling out a need for a level playing field between the enterprises and the telcos as it is the former who are getting short-changed as a result," the tech lobby adds.

While public networks are essentially connected to the public Internet, the closed user captive private networks are not. Whereas public 5G networks are meant to be used by millions and billions of consumers, private 5G networks are exclusively meant for use by the enterprises within their limited defined geographic areas.

"It is ludicrous that misleading and misinformed views are being propagated demanding level playing field between two completely different sets of services, i.e. massive country-wide public networks and significantly smaller and limited captive non-public networks, especially when the playing field is actually completely tilted in the favour of the telcos," says BIF president T.V. Ramachandran.

"This seems to be an attempt to have a select group with vested interests decide and offer their services as per their wishes to the enterprises, depriving them of the fundamental right to choice, for preferred services as well as service provider," Ramachandran adds.

This, according to the tech lobby, will go against the historic and progressive decision of the Union Cabinet to enable Industry 4.0, and deal a severe blow to the nation's progressive growth ambitions. The suggestion that captive private networks should bid for spectrum in auctions is extremely irrational, given that their objective is to enhance efficiencies and not use the spectrum to provide commercial public services, says the industry body says.

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