Five reasons why telecom operators may win the battle for 5G against ISRO

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  • Telecom operators and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) are caught in a battle of the 26 GHz band.
  • The former argues that the airwaves are integral for keeping 5G affordable while the latter says the radio waves with important satellite communications.
  • The Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRAI) has passed the buck to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to decide whether or not the 26 GHz band will be available during the upcoming 5G spectrum auction.
India plans roll out 5G services next year but telecom operators and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) are battling it out over premium bandwidth. And, the outcome lies in the hands of the Department of Telecommunications ( DoT).

Both want the coveted 26 GHz band under their watch. Telecom operates want it, not because there aren’t other options, but because those particular airwaves are one of the few able to provide ultra-high 5G speeds.

On the other hand, ISRO claims that operation along that same band will interfere with satellite communication — putting emergency services and weather forecasting at risk.
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The Telecom Regulatory of India (TRAI) passed the buck to the DoT to decide whether or not the 26GHz band will be put up for sale during the auction — scheduled to take place within this financial year.

“Spectrum in the 26 Ghz band is something that DoT can decide. It has to make up its mind if it wants to use 26 Ghz for 5G. Our job is to recommend base price only,” said TRAI Chairman Ram Sewak Sharma as per an ETT report.

Here are six reasons why telecom operators are likely to win the 26 GHz band:

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​1. The 26 Ghz has way more airwaves

​1. The 26 Ghz has way more airwaves

Even though the DoT has marked the 3.3-3.6 GHz band for 5G services, only 175 units of airwaves are available within the bandwidth. The 26GHz band, on the other hand, has 3250 units of airwaves available.

​2. The 26 GHz band is the key to high speed 5G

​2. The 26 GHz band is the key to high speed 5G

(Source: ITU)

There are only three bands fit for ultra-high 5G speeds, according to Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA) — 28 GHz, 40 GHz and the contested 26 GHz. The 26 and 28 GHz bands have the added benefit of being adjacent to each other. That makes it easier for telecom operators to expand networks without having to switch up too much of their equipment.

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​3. The 26 GHz band is globally recognised for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT)

​3. The 26 GHz band is globally recognised for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT)

(Source: ITU)

Earlier this year, the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) 2019 identified which bands were globally acceptable to run 5G services — including frequencies between 24.25 to 27.5 GHz.

These standards set by the International Telecom Union (ITU) to provide stability across geographies and sufficient spectrum space for everyone to operate — the aim being seamless global roaming. According to them, adequate protection has been put in place for Earth Exploration Satellite Services.

​4. The International Telecom Union (ITU) has already ruled against ISRO

​4. The International Telecom Union (ITU) has already ruled against ISRO

(Source: ISRO)

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) submitted ISRO’s proposal to restrict the transmission of 5G mobile base stations to the International Telecom Union (ITU). They wanted to cut any transmissions over 36 dBm over the 26 Ghz band, claiming that it would interfere with satellite operations.


The ITU ruled against the proposal stating that the 26 GHz band has already been earmarked for 5G services globally. Adding that access to the wave will allow telecom operators to keep 5G services affordable.
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​5. India’s telecom industry needs the rescue

​5. India’s telecom industry needs the rescue

(Source: BCCL)

Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has made it clear that the government that no intention of lowering the prices of spectrum space for the upcoming 5G auction. But, he did suggest that the pricing structure may undergo some reforms at the India Mobile Congress (IMC) 2019.

India’s telecom industry has been operating in the red since Jio’s entry and the subsequent aggressive pricing strategies it employed. The burden of debt has only increased since the Supreme Court’s ruling on average gross revenue (AGR) increased the licence dues owed to the government for use of the 4G spectrum.

Despite the recent hike in tariffs, India’s telecom industry is in desperate need of revenue. One of the first use cases that experts expect are 5G enterprise solutions deployed for Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Keeping the 5G spectrum affordable is integral to that strategy.