Mobile operators Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea have vehemently opposed allocation of premium 700 MHz spectrum to Indian Railways for specific services, citing commercial value of such radio waves and the potential for 4G and 5G offerings. The mobile telephony services industry -- otherwise polarised over a range of issues -- has spoken in one voice this time to assert that spectrum allotted to the Railways for captive use should not be utilised for commercial services for passengers (wi-fi and internet offerings) as such services should be provisioned by entities that hold a valid licence.
Reliance Jio said that the Railways should not be permitted to offer commercial services like wi-fi and voice and video communication, without obtaining authorisation under the Unified Licence.
The Railways should obtain commercial spectrum for commercial use via auction like all other interested parties, it said.
"... we do not agree with the Indian Railways demand for reserving 15 MHz spectrum in 700 Mhz spectrum band for LTE (Long Term Evolution) based communication corridor...The spectrum in 700 Mhz band should not be allocated to Indian Railways for Radiocommunication Systems between Train and Trackside (RSTT) due to its commercial use and being a backbone band for 4G-5G services," Reliance Jio said in its response to regulatory consultation on the matter.
The suitable allocation for such captive use should be in the 450-470 MHz spectrum band, it opined.
"Department of Telecom (DoT) has rightly noted that considering the limited spectrum available in 700 MHz band and the fact that this digital dividend spectrum has immense potential for coverage in wide and rural areas, the spectrum for Indian Railways may be explored beyond this band and that the spectrum in 450-470 MHz seems most suitable for this purpose," Jio said.
Jio said it strongly disagrees with the proposal to use the RSTT radiowaves for providing Wi-fi services to passengers and using the spectrum for faster data network communication for voice, video and other applications as well as IoT based services "as the same are commercial services and can be provisioned only under Unified Licence authorisation by DoT".
The operator, however, termed as "valid and legitimate", the Railways' requirements to provide mission-critical passenger safety services and applications, video surveillance through close circuit cameras in trains, along with video analytics.
"The Railways is a commercial organisation and it can very well take the requisite licences and auction acquired spectrum to offer commercial services like Wi-fi... to its customers under the applicable licence and service terms and conditions," Jio has said.
Vodafone Idea argued that if spectrum from 700 MHz band were to be reserved for Indian Railways, there will be insufficient spectrum left for 4G/5G services (considering that 3-4 service providers will be providing services in each service area), in effect, jeopardising growth plans of the telecom operators.
Hence, it said, spectrum in 700 MHz band should be allocated and utilised only for IMT (international mobile telecom) services, Vodafone Idea said.
Vodafone Idea further said spectrum should not be reserved or assigned to Indian Railways for commercial purposes to meet the communication needs of the railway passengers, which the operator felt should be served through the telecom service providers' networks.
"The Indian Railways may avail and utilise the spectrum for their captive/internal purposes such as for passenger safety, train positioning and security purposes or requirements," it said.
Bharti Airtel also felt that spectrum in 700 MHz band should not be allocated to Indian Railways, and should only be made available to the licensed telecom operators via due auction process.
Indian Railways can be allocated the 450-470 MHz for deployment of LTE based RSTT, it added.
"Since the 700 MHz band has a huge potential for being used for provision of commercial IMT services and for providing improved coverage to the subscribers, it is recommended that any entity desiring to have spectrum in this band should pay the market determined price as determined in auction," Airtel said in its response to the consultation paper on 'allotment of spectrum to Indian Railways for public safety and security services'.
Airtel said it does not support any provision of internet services by Indian Railways with the use of spectrum assigned for signalling purpose, since this would result in "unfair competition and direct substitute" to the services provided by existing licensed operators who acquire spectrum through auction.
Provision of internet services onboard should be done by facilitating the operators to install their own infrastructure, it pointed out.