CDMA cos lose out in 3G spectrum race

It’s now official. CDMA players such as Tata Teleservices (TTSL) and Reliance Communications (RCom) will not be given spectrum in the 450 MHz and 1900 MHz frequency bands in the upcoming 3G policy. The Department of Telecom’s (DoT) move comes as a blow to CDMA players as they will now be allocated frequencies for third generation (3G) mobile technology only in the 800 Mhz band, which they already use for providing 2G services—the mobile technology used at present.

Players such as TTSL have warned that a 3G policy of this nature would have a significant impact on the government’s plans to increase tele-density and roll-out 3G services, especially in rural India.

The government has decided against allocating the 450 MHz frequency as the state-run Telecom Engineering Centre (TEC) in its report has said that there are no ITU-R recommendations for 3G services in this band. Besides, it has also said that if CDMA services were considered for this band, then GSM operators would also demand spectrum in this frequency leading to further complications. ITU-R is a subcommittee of the International Telecommunications Union whose role is to regulate the allocation of frequencies.

Tata Teleservices, however, has disagreed with the TEC report. The company has said that non-allocation of the 450 MHz frequency would impact only CDMA players as there was no commercial deployment of GSM in this band. “However, CDMA equipment is available internationally in 450 Mhz. Those players, who are willing to start operations in 450 MHz, should not be denied this chance. If GSM operators demand this spectrum, they should also be considered. But telecom and particularly rural growth should not be compromised by not releasing 450 MHz to whosoever is capable of using this band,” the company said a communication to the government.

Telecom regulator Trai in its recommendations on the allocation of 3G spectrum had said that CDMA service providers be given 3G spectrum in the 450 MHz and 800 MHz frequencies. The regulator had also said that CDMA operators could be assigned spectrum in 1900 Mhz after conducting tests to establish that 3G services in this frequency would not impact the services offered by GSM players. While Trai had also given them the option of bidding for 3G spectrum in the 2.1 GHz band, CDMA players are highly unlikely to do so since this frequency is predominantly used by GSM-based operators globally.
With regard to 1900 MHz, the DoT, while acknowledging that the industry body AUSPI had already obtained permission to carry out trials, has also said that since spectrum in this band was currently not available to test feasibility, there could be no immediate allocation in this frequency. However, Tata Teleservices has pointed out that this is the band that is fully compatible with the evolution from CDMA 1x to EVDO (3G) technology. “We are seriously concerned that even though the Wireless Planning & Co-ordination (WPC) Wing an initiated an exercise for trying coexistence of 1900 MHz and 2100 MHz networks, the proposed policy does not find any mention of this,” the company said.

“We are seriously concerned about the non-allocation of 1900 MHz in the policy document… this would lead to the CDMA policy being compromised as CDMA handsets are not available in this 2100 MHz,” TTSL’s communication to the government added.