The drafted legislation would see a mechanism created to share spectrum between the military, state security services, and commercial operators, even granting the military emergency powers to shut down networks
A new draft of Russian’s 2035 telecommunications strategy could see the Russian military gain significant powers over civilian mobile networks, including the right to disable them if a state emergency is declared.
According to a report from Kommersant, the new bill includes a new mechanism through which Russian military and security services can share mobile spectrum with commercial operators. This shared spectrum will reportedly be managed by a dedicated third party, which the report suggests could be Russian censorship agency Roskomnadzor.
For the mobile operators, this shared spectrum could provide a boost in service quality for customers, providing much needed additional capacity. On the other hand, it will give the military far greater influence over public networks, both in terms of monitoring and service provisioning.
The report notes that the new telecoms strategy will also enable the military to seize control of civilian networks if a state of emergency is declared. This includes the right to shut off networks entirely if desired.
Overcoming spectrum struggles
The Russian military’s relationship with civilian mobile spectrum is already a complicated one, particularly when it comes to 5G. Years of disjointed spectrum policy have left many of the prime 5G spectrum bands, including the so-called ‘golden band’ of 3.4–3.8GHz, partly occupied by state apparatus, including the Federal Protective Service (FSO), the Federal Air Transport Agency, the Ministry of Defense, and the Russian space agency, Roskosmos.
Seeking to rectify this issue, the Russian mobile operators set up a joint venture in 2017, now known as New Digital Solutions, aiming to work together on 5G spectrum strategy and research.
“The lack of frequencies suitable for creating 5G networks in Russia is one of the most significant constraints. The JV has a very large amount of work ahead of releasing radio frequency resources, taking into account the whole range of issues – regulatory, organisational, technical, economic,” explained Rostelecom president Mikhail Oseevsky back in 2021.
But despite some progress in clearing certain spectrum bands, challenges in this area persist, with a Beeline (VEON) spokesperson last year noting that there was still “significant technical limitations in the use of existing radio services using the main spectrum band for the development of 5G mobile networks over the 3.4–3.8GHz band”.
Now, the new telecoms strategy is seeking to overcome this challenge by simply banning commercial operators from the 3.4–3.8GHz band, reserving it for state usage and pushing the commercial network operators towards alternative frequencies.
“Explicitly, the draft strategy will include a ban on the use of the golden band,” explained Maxut Shadayev, head of Russia’s Digital Development Ministry. “We will develop 5G. There are other available bands for 5G, for example, 4,400-4,990MHz.”
Challenges extend beyond midband
The Russian operators’ spectrum woes are not confined to the mid-band. Russian operators theoretically hold the rights to use the valuable 700MHz low-band spectrum for 4G and 5G services, but these bands are currently occupied by broadcasters. In fact, backed by a number of regulatory rulings, the broadcasters have proven loath to migrate their services away from these frequencies, attempting to charge the mobile operators exorbitant prices in exchange for doing so.
The government’s sympathy for the broadcasters in this battle may be wearing thin, however, with the government was now considering ordering the broadcasters to vacate the spectrum.
“They believe that the operator must pay. They made an assessment, received some estimated amount, and the number was quite high; the operators are not ready to pay that much for it,” explained Shadayev, noting the government was exploring the possibility of “removing the spectrum in principle”.
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