Telecom, defence departments locked in 65 MHz tussle

Spectrum swap war between the departments now in front of panel

The Telecom ministry is pushing the reluctant Defence forces to vacate 65 MHz in 2G and 3G bands, despite the former not fully honouring a written understanding achieved about four years ago on providing alternative secured network to migrate to their sensitive applications.

The spectrum swap war between the armed forces and the Telecom ministry has now landed in the Standing Committee on defence, which in its maiden meeting on Wednesday decided to summon secretaries of Defence and Telecom to have their views on the matters.

The cash-trapped UPA government is keen to have additional spectrum for commercial services to generate more revenue opportunities.

Telecom operators have been insisting that the Telecom and Finance Ministries hasten the swap as the scarce resource is lying idle for years now. The 28-member department-related parliamentary committee is headed by Lok Sabha Congress MP Raj Babbar since November 2011 after he took over the reigns from Satpal Mahraj.

While there are 18 members from the Lok Sabha, the remaining ten representing the panel are drawn from the Rajya Sabha. Both ministries had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) way back in 2009 for laying their hands off 40 Mhz in 2G band and 25 Mhz in 3G band in the 1700-2000 MHz sub-band, subject to the fact that sensitive telecommunication systems of forces should be shifted to the secured wired or optical fibre network and carving out an exclusive defence band and defence interest zone.

Besides, the forces would be exempted from spectrum usage charges fee.   As per the understanding, said ministry sources, the bandwidth vacation was to be in phases and backed by the implementation of the demands of the forces that was agreed upon between the two stakeholders.

Of this, 20 MHz each in the two bands was handed over to the Telecom ministry two years back but the armed forces have expressed reservation in vacating the remaining bandwidth till their requirements are met.

It is learnt that the Air Force was shifted to dedicated network connecting its country-wide locations and a backup facility has also been provided to them. Sources said the Air Force, however, is not very confident of the protected cabling hired from the BSNL due to which they are desisting from moving their critical communication system on the medium. The project for laying down the network for spectrum (NFS)  for the Army, Navy and Air Force is expected to cost Rs 13,334 crore.  

The BSNL last month surprisingly cancelled the bidding for lying down 57,000 km of fibre cables as the last date of submitting papers was February 27.

The Finance Ministry, too, is eager to midwife a settlement between the two ministries on the contentious issues agreeing to the GSM operators’ concern that holding back 15 Mhz of 3G airwaves from commercial exploitation would disrupt the telecom growth in the country.

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