Infrastructure Sharing in India – An Imperative for Sustained Growth
Editor’s Note: This Practice Note is based in large part on a discussion paper entitled Extending Open Access to National Fibre Backbones in Developing Countries prepared by Dr Tracy Cohen and Russell Southwood for the 8th ITU Global Symposium for Regulators.
The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has sought to foster cooperative efforts among operators in India through recommendations on passive and active infrastructure sharing. The goal is to enable further growth in mobile services, particularly in rural and remote areas. TRAI’s recommendations resulted from a public consultation process. For more information on the background to this public consultation process, particularly with respect to sharing mobile network infrastructure and universal access goals, see the Practice Note, "Sharing Mobile Network Infrastructure in India".
Given the significant costs of infrastructure investment, TRAI has acknowledged the need to optimize available resources while ensuring competition and availability of services at affordable prices. It has noted that infrastructure sharing can reduce costs and promote rollout of services more cheaply and quickly. Sharing can enable more rapid initial network deployment, as well as more cost-effective coverage in under-served areas over the long term. TRAI’s policy approach would combine regulatory interventions with other initiatives, including providing financial incentives. TRAI’s policy recommendations include the following:
- Passive infrastructure sharing should be subject to financial incentives – all licensees in any service area will qualify for financial subvention schemes meant for rural areas;
- Tax exemptions on earnings from infrastructure sharing could be considered;
- Terms of sharing should be decided by commercial agreement between service providers, but TRAI has reserved the option of prescribing a standard commercial agreement format in the future;
- A joint working group will be established with representatives of operators, service providers, municipalities, local authorities and India’s Military Land Control Wing to assist in dispute resolution;
- Critical infrastructure sites will be identified;
- Licence conditions will be amended to allow active infrastructure sharing limited to antenna, feeder cable, Node B, Radio Access Network and transmission systems;
- Operators should be allowed to share their backhaul from the Base Transceiver Station (BTS) to the Base Station Controller (BSC), because optical fibre is available in urban areas but is not being optimally utilized;
- Sharing should be permitted on optical fibre, as well as wireless systems, at certain nodes;
- No sharing of spectrum for access networks has been recommended; and
- Explore alternative, non-conventional energy sources to address critical power availability concerns.
Mindful of the tension between mandating access and encouraging ongoing investment, TRAI has attempted to ensure that its recommendations would not impact competition or reduce the growth of wireless services in the country.
 For more information about the GSR, see www.itu.int/ITU-D/treg/Events/Seminars/GSR/index.html;
for a direct link to the 2008 GSR Discussion Papers, please visit: www.itu.int/ITU-D/treg/Events/Seminars/GSR/GSR08/papers.html.
Practice Note, "Sharing Mobile Network Infrastructure in India"