India, the world’s second-largest telecom market, has been consistently late in upgrading its networks. A spanking new law hopes to avoid further productivity loss, particularly with 5G networks that are designed for machines to communicate among themselves and improve economic decision-making. Current regulations are hazy on companies exiting the business and the spectrum that gets locked up in the process. Farmed-out spectrum needs to be delinked from the technology it is being used for, and spectrum holdings allowed to be consolidated. There is scope for developing a marketplace for spectrum that facilitates mergers and acquisitions in the industry. Right-of-way rules for backhaul portions of networks require synchronisation. A review of obligations towards the underserved, to include sections of the non-rural population, is also on the table.
The regulatory brush-up aims to fill gaps and is slated to mesh seamlessly with the existing regime so that the business case for the current crop of players is not affected. Telcos, though, consider the price of spectrum to be the biggest hurdle in upgrading networks in a price-sensitive market like India. One objective of the legislative review is promoting investment in the sector. But that is inextricably tied to the upfront spectrum commitments for companies. Yet, a review of the other issues confronting the industry will be a step forward.