Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), India’s top information technology company, wants the government to directly allocate 5G spectrum to private enterprises, as recommended by the regulator. It ruled out participating in the upcoming 5G auction as rollout obligations make buying airwaves directly financially unviable.
“Private networks for enterprises will enable organisations to accelerate their IoT (internet of things) and digitalisation agenda,” TCS chief operating officer N Ganapathy Subramaniam told ET. “For this to happen in a secure manner and with a greater degree of control on their own data, government must consider allocating appropriate spectrum directly to enterprises for building private networks without any dependency on telcos and full freedom to unleash the potential for Industry 4.0 transformation.”
This pits the Tata group company against telecom operators such as Reliance Jio Infocomm and Bharti Airtel, which want airwaves to be auctioned to licensed entities. The telcos’ view has been backed by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and the matter will now be decided by the cabinet.
Infosys, India’s second-largest software developer, is planning to lease 5G spectrum in key markets to deploy private networks for large enterprise customers, practically ruling out the purchase of airwaves directly in a sale. Rivals such as Wipro and Tech Mahindra said they are also looking to partner carriers and companies as tech firms seek to participate in the next-gen technology. HCL Technologies added that it sees huge opportunities for industries leveraging the next-gen technology.
Subramaniam said countries such as Germany, Finland, the UK, US, France, Sweden, South Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Australia, Czech Republic, Japan, Taiwan and France have earmarked spectrum for private networks in the mid band (3.3-3.67 GHz) and 28 GHz millimetre wave (mmWave) band. If bandwidth is allocated directly, enterprises can choose the service or system integrators to build applications on the 5G technologies of private networks. Allocated spectrum can also be reused and given to various enterprises, the TCS executive said.
The government is looking to auction 5G spectrum in the 600 MHz, 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300 MHz, 2500 MHz, 3.3-3.67 GHz (mid-band, or C band) and 24.25-27.5 GHz (mmWave) bands possibly in July and ring in the first 5G call in the August-September timeframe.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has suggested that airwaves in the 3.7-3.8 GHz, 4.8-4.99 GHz and 28.5-29.5 GHz be earmarked for private 5G networks.
Both TCS and Infosys said mid-band (C Band) and mm-Wave band are conducive to the deployment of private networks.
“Trai has given favourable recommendations to the government in terms of recognition of private 5G networks in India, allocation of spectrum for private 5G networks to enterprises as an option, relatively low reserve price for mmWave band spectrum,” said Subramaniam.
But a senior DoT official recently ruled out direct allocation to enterprises and said that any company, even a non-telco, can participate in the 5G spectrum sale after taking a permit from the department.
Subramaniam said that’s unlikely.
“The rollout obligation recommended by Trai for mmWave band and mid-band spectrum is extremely discouraging for any new operator to participate in the forthcoming spectrum auction,” he said.
While telcos with existing networks would be able to meet them, greenfield operators would find it difficult, especially when the usage is limited to enterprise use cases and applications, he said.
“Thus, this prescription of minimum rollout obligation discourages the entry of new operators in the market and make the case for acquiring spectrum financially unviable,” Subramaniam said.
The stakes are high with Swedish equipment maker Ericsson pegging the 5G-for-business opportunity in India at $17 billion by 2030. This includes connectivity, enablers like edge computing, and applications.
“Infosys would be looking forward to spectrum leasing to have better control as it gives more agility and flexibility for innovations,” said Gopikrishnan Konnanath, global head, engineering services and blockchain.
Since Infosys is heavily invested in private 5G use cases across multiple verticals such as manufacturing, retail, utilities, and healthcare, “having owned spectrum” would help it implement use cases in campuses effectively, he said.
Wipro said it sees 5G connectivity as a key enabler of digital transformation.
“Our current strategy is focused on enabling innovation for 5G equipment manufacturers, enterprises and CSPs,” according to a spokesperson. “We are actively investing in a number of industry use cases.”
Tech Mahindra said it’s working with carriers, enterprises, and the tech ecosystem. Private 5G is a key part of its strategy.
“We will continue to partner with telecom operators as we design, integrate, deploy, and manage world-class industrial use cases, as the network capabilities evolve with 5G spectrum and underlying architecture,” said Manish Vyas, CEO, network services, Tech Mahindra.
A recent EY survey said 77% of enterprises globally wanted to use private networks to support 5G and IoT use case implementation. It added that 71% wanted to invest in 5G through intermediaries like mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), while 64% said directly acquiring 5G spectrum could be important.
These disruptive customer signals, EY said, suggest that “telcos’ traditional relationships with enterprise customers are under pressure, and that more agile go-to-market strategies are essential in a 5G-IoT world.”