India’s telecom operators on Wednesday pressed the government to decide when it plans to auction fifth-generation (5G) spectrum so that they have clarity on when to start field trials to test the technology and roll out services.

In a meeting with telecom department officials to discuss the 5G roadmap, the telcos sought globally harmonised bands to be identified for 5G services in the country to enhance interoperability between networks.

They also asked the department’s wireless planning cell to update the National Frequency Allocation Plan (NFAP)-2018 with new spectrum bands such as 26GHz (gigahertz) that have been identified by the International Telecom Union for 5G deployment.

“Spectrum already identified for IMT (International Mobile Telecommunications)/5G in the NFAP-2018 should be made available for mobile services,” SP Kochhar, director-general, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), said, adding that, “timelines need to be defined for the availability of these bands”.

The NFAP is a central policy that defines the roadmap for future spectrum usage by all national authorities, including the telecom department, the department of space and the defence ministry.

Besides the globally approved bands for 5G, lobby group COAI also urged the government to immediately auction the E and V spectrum bands.

In September, COAI had sought allocation of spectrum in the E and V bands, ideal for 5G services, through auctions.

The industry body said that if E and V bands were delicensed or administratively allocated, the airwaves could be used as access spectrum by unlicensed companies, making it difficult for licenced telcos to expand the backend infrastructure.

Delicensing of the E and V bands would also lead to a huge loss in government revenues from spectrum usage charges and licence fee, COAI said.

Besides the telcos, representatives of technology giants Facebook Inc. and Google Inc. were also present at the meeting, company officials said, adding that all stakeholders were given 3-4 minutes to make their presentations.

The DoT did not make any remark on the issues flagged in the meeting, the people said.

Though the issues relating to 5G were central to the meeting, telcos also sought lower taxes and levies, which adds to the stress on their balance sheets and has been a longstanding concern of two of the three largest telcos in the country.

“If the spectrum is acquired through auction, then there should not be any usage charge for the spectrum as the market-determined price is already paid,” said Kochhar.

The telcos also flagged pricing of spectrum, which according to Bharti Airtel Ltd and Vodafone Idea Ltd is unaffordable.

Experts said the upcoming spectrum auction to be conducted in March could be a repeat of the 2016 fiasco when large chunks of airwaves were unsold due to high reserve prices.

There could be limited participation from these two mobile operators, owing to expensive pricing, they said.

“This has been a long-pending demand of pricing of spectrum to be rationalised and benchmark it according to international norms,” Kochhar said.

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