The telecom regulator will submit much-awaited guidelines on spectrum trading to the Telecom Commission likely on January 15, a few days before the scheduled January 21 start to the next round of bandwidth auctions, a senior official in the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India said.
Apart from formulating the trading framework, Trai will define timelines and processes for transferring "wireless telegraphy licences from telecom operators, selling rights to unused spectrum to the buyer of such rights, coupled with their validity period", the official said.
Wireless telegraphy permits are issued by the telecom department's (DoT's) wireless planning cell (WPC) to allow telecom operators to use their allocated airwaves. The WPC is the central repository of spectrum, the bandwidth on which mobile calls travel.
"Smooth transfer of wireless telegraphy licences will be a key issue since a telco relinquishing rights to airwaves will need to immediately inform the WPC," said a senior executive of a leading GSM operator.
The debt-laden sector, struggling with competition and regulatory uncertainties, is desperate for trading in airwaves to be allowed as it could aid big-bang consolidation. Trading offers struggling operators, who are not using bandwidth efficiently, to exit the business by it to a financially stronger operator who needs the resource to expand its network and services.
In fact, the regulator had underscored in its earlier recommendations on spectrum pricing that there is no exit route for operators who bought spectrum through auctions, citing the sale of 3G and broadband wireless access (BWA) spectrum in 2010.
Trai will form a steering committee next week with representatives of GSM and CDMA operators to draw up the spectrum trading roadmap. This is since the commission - the highest decision-making body in the DoT - has endorsed in-principle the regulator's September 9 recommendations urging government to outline a framework for sharing of airwaves by operators before the next airwave auctions.
The TC had, in fact, urged the sector regulator to prepare a detailed blueprint on buying and selling spectrum. Trai's move is also in step with Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia's suggestion earlier this year that spectrum trading be allowed to yield better auction results.
Since India's telecom laws do not allow trading of airwaves, Trai will study current trading practices in the UK, Germany, France, the US, Australia and New Zealand and assess their impact on global auctions.