‘Captive non-public network rules allow backdoor entry to big tech firms’

June 30, 2022 09:40 pm | Updated 09:41 pm IST - NEW DELHI

The Cellular Operators Association of India on Thursday said that the rules issued to set up captive non-public network (CNPN) allowed tech companies to de-facto become service providers and compete with telcos in the enterprise segment. The association, therefore, urged the Centre to relook into the concept of CNPN to ensure a level-playing field.

The guidelines issued by the telecom department stipulate a minimum networth of ₹100 crore for applicants seeking direct assignment of spectrum from the government for setting up CNPN, and the licencee will not be required to pay any entry fee or licence fee.

“Any consideration of administrative allocation of spectrum for such networks is fundamentally against the principles of a level-playing field and effectively provides backdoor entry to big technology players to provide 5G services and solutions to enterprises in India without equivalent regulatory compliance and payment of levies that TSPs are subjected to,” COAI DG SP Kochhar said in a letter to Telecom Secretary K. Rajaraman.

“The guidelines allow technology companies to de-facto become service providers and compete with TSPs in the enterprise connectivity space,” Mr. Kochhar added.

The letter dated June 30, added that the move seemed to be based on some international practices that were not relevant in the Indian context and “probably without any in-depth study being conducted by DoT or TRAI of its adverse impact on the economy and for orderly growth of the telecom sector”.

COAI further highlighted that companies such as Intel, Amazon, Microsoft, Cisco, and NTT, on their websites, were claiming to be capable of setting-up and managing such networks for providing 5G services over the cloud to enterprises, effectively competing directly with telecom operators in the enterprise connectivity space.

“DoT’s decision to allow private networks at different locations under one licence makes it much easier for such entities to create an equivalent pan-India/ state-wide network with just one licence and by taking leased lines connectivity to connect multiple locations,” COAI said, adding that these networks spread across locations and interconnected over leased lines did not qualify to be called as CNPN as these were in no way less than public networks.

“Setting aside spectrum risks devaluing 5G spectrum being put to auction as enterprise use-cases are major drivers of 5G and most of the enterprises will, understandably, choose to go with CNPN (instead of public 5G networks of telecom operators) as these come with unfair advantage of zero license fee and entry fee and are free from any penalty for any security and regulatory non-compliance,” it added.

The industry body urged the government to ensure that private networks at different locations under one licence, taking leased lines connectivity to connect multiple locations, were not permitted, and cloud connectivity specifically barred. COAI also reiterated its earlier demands that enterprises should comply with EMF norms, subscriber verification norms, security conditions, and law enforcement agencies’ requirements.

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