Bharti Airtel CEO Gopal Vittal on Wednesday made a strong pitch for giving out E-band backhaul spectrum with 5G radiowaves while cautioning that not doing so could put the 5G game in “serious jeopardy”.
Airtel’s top boss, Vittal, also flagged issues on Right of Way, Services Level Agreement (SLAs) around Bharat Net, as well as challenges related to state-level approvals and subsidy payouts in rural connectivity projects under USO programme, and sought speedy redressal of such impediments.
Telecom connectivity programmes are “right” of every citizen and broadband is at the centre of economic momentum of the country, Vittal said pledging Airtel’s full commitment to making investments, that are needed, to fulfill the vision of Digital India.
Vittal termed backhaul as being “absolutely essential” for broadband infrastructure, and highlighted some “serious struggles” faced by the industry when it comes to both fibre and wireless backhauls.
“E band spectrum is a band of spectrum that can enable large amounts of backhaul from the mobile tower, to carry broadband traffic. Unfortunately, this is spectrum that has been sitting with the government and has not been allocated to the players,” Vittal said.
Terming this “a waste of very precious resource”, he called for finding ways of bundling it with 5G spectrum so that it is available for use in order to build out 5G connectivity.
“I would go so far as to say that if E-band spectrum doesn’t come in, along with the access spectrum on 5G, the 5G game will really be in serious jeopardy,” he cautioned.
Vittal was speaking at post Budget webinar session titled ‘Road and Infoway connectivity to all rural habitations’.
Speaking in favour of strengthening of mobile infrastructure in rural areas, Vittal mooted an “idea” for lowering the cost of connectivity.
“One of the ideas that I would like to propose today is to actually take a particular spectrum band, lets say 700 megahertz, and allocate that with very, very stringent obligations to connect the entire country, but do that free of cost…so that we invest the money in the access and the capex rather than in spectrum, and do that with very stringent rollout obligation,” he said.
Vittal observed that USO fund has been leveraged for providing connectivity to many unconnected villages, and added also Airtel too has actively participated in bidding for the tenders.
“But there are two challenges here that I’d like to bring to your notice. One is the complex approvals at the state governments that inhibit the satisfactory rollout of the sites that are part of your vision. And the second part is that even if it’s rolled out, many subsidies are stuck with the government, and the subsidies are not paid out, despite having made these investments,” Vittal informed.
Vittal also batted for open access policy for power so companies can invest in “greening” of the towers. He also pushed for access to industrial rates of power for a sector like telecom which has become “essential infrastructure”.
The session was also attended by Telecom Secretary K Rajaraman.