What is a Spectrum in Telecom ? A simple explanation


Hello friends,

If you are living in India or have even a partial interest in India, then you must be aware of the latest wave of corruption scams which has completely jolted the country. The 2G Spectrum Scam wherein a loss of Rs. 1.76 lakh crore ($39 Billions) to the Government  owing to irregularities in allocation of 2G specturm to various companies has been estimated is being considered as the biggest scam in the history of India.

Just for all those who are interested in this issue, here is a simple explanation of spectrum and it’s allocation in India.

1. What is spectrum?

The word spectrum refers to a collection of various types of electromagnetic radiations of different wavelengths.  Spectrum or airwaves are the radio frequencies on which all communication singnals travel. In India the radio frequencies are being used for different types of services like space communication, mobile communication, broadcasting, radio navigation, mobile satellite service, aeronautical satellite services, defence communication etc.  Radio frequency is a natural resource but unlike other resources it will deplete when used. But it will be wasted if not used efficiently.

A look at following picture will make the things more clearer. Click on it to enlarge.

Spectrum Allocation
Spectrum Allocation

The spectrum allocated to Indian telecom operator is most crowded and inadequate to accommodate the usage by 650 million mobile subscribers as on date.  This has affected the quality of customer service and resulted in poor voice quality, call drop and undelivered messages of mobile services in India.

2. Agencies allocating spectrum

Spectrum allocation is important and necessary to ensure interference free operation for each radio service. All nations share the electromagnetic spectrum and reserve their right to its unlimited use. However, to facilitate international telecommunications cooperation to support trade, transportation, communications, and mutual protection against interference, all countries have agreed to an International Telecommunications Convention. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) at the World Radio Communication Conferences allocates spectrum frequencies for the use of various countries. Since the mobile communication technologies provide international roaming facilities, it is essential to allocate spectrum in the
common bands which are being used the world over. Secondly the mobile handsets which are manufactured are aligned to the GSM 900/1800 bands. If radio frequencies are allotted in any other bands then the handsets will not be compatible to those bands. The Wireless Planning and Coordination (WPC) Wing of the Ministry of Communications, created in 1952, is the National Radio Regulatory Authority responsible for Frequency Spectrum Management, including licensing and caters for the needs of all wireless users in the country. It issues licenses to operate wireless stations. WPC is divided into major sections like Licensing and Regulation (LR), New Technology Group (NTG) and Standing Advisory Committee on Radio Frequency Allocation (SACFA). SACFA makes the recommendations on major frequency allocation issues, formulation of the frequency allocation plan, making recommendations on the various issues related to International Telecom Union (ITU), to sort out problems referred to the committee by various wireless users.

3. India’s National Frequency Allocation plan

The National Frequency Allocation Plan (NFAP) forms the basis for development and manufacturing of wireless equipment and spectrum utilization in the country. Frequency bands allocated to various types of radio services in India are as follows.

i)      0-87.5 MHz is used for marine and aeronautical navigation, short and medium wave radio, amateur (ham) radio and cordless phones.

ii)     87.5-108 MHz is used for FM radio broadcasts

iii)   109- 173 Used for Satellite communication, aeronautical navigation and outdoor broadcast vans

iv)  174-230 MHz not allocated.

v)   230—450 Used for Satellite communication, aeronautical navigation and outdoor broadcast vans

vi)  450- 585. Not allocated.

vii)  585-698 Used for TV broadcast

viii)    698-806 not allocated.

ix)     806-960 Used by GSM and CDMA mobile services

x)   960-1710 Aeronautical and space communication

xi)  1710- 1930 Used for GSM mobile services

xii) 1930-2010 – Used by defence forces

xiii)  2010-2025 – Not allocated

xiv)  2025-2110 – Satellite and space communications

xv)  2110-2170 – Not allocated

xvi) 2170-2300 – Satellite and space communications

xvii)  2300-2400 not allocated.

xviii)   2400- 2483.5 Used for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth short range services

xix) 2483.5-3300 Space communications

xx) 3300-3600   not allocated.

xxi) 3600-10000 Space research, radio navigation

xxii)  10000 – used for satellite downlink for broadcast and DTH services

4. Telecom spectrum policy in India

In India GSM technology works in the frequency bands of 900 and 1800 MHz and CDMA technology works in the 800 MHz band. Presently, 100 MHz spectrum is ear marked for GSM services and 20 MHz is earmarked for CDMA.  Out of this 65 MHz of GSM band is still with Defence forces. The minimum amount of spectrum required for launching GSM services is 4.4 MHz. In 2002, the government introduced a subscriber linked spectrum allocation process, which provided for a maximum allotment of 12.5 MHz of spectrum per operator in each service area. The initial allotment of spectrum along with the licence was 4.4 MHz for GSM and 2.5 MHz for CDMA. This could be further scaled up to 6.2 MHz for GSM and 5 MHz for CDMA operators depending on availability and the operator’s ability to justify the need for it. For additional spectrum they had to meet the subscriber linked criterion laid down by DoT.

However due to the deluge of over 570 UAS licence applications, in Dec 2007, DoT delinked spectrum from the telecom licence and implemented a policy of first come first served basis for spectrum allocation. It depended entirely on submission of licence fees to DoT’s WPC wing for a spectrum licence. In 2008 DoT revised the criteria for additional spectrum allocation.

According to this, the subscriber base required for additional spectrum allocation was hiked two to six times for different circles.

5.  Defence Band

In India significant quantum of radio frequencies required for telecommunication is used by the defence forces. The telecom and defence ministries are in discussion for transferring the radio frequencies for telecommunication. Last year the telecom ministry signed a MOU with defence ministry as per which Defence ministry will surrender 45 MHZ of spectrum to telecom ministry. Out of this, 25 MHZ is identified for 3G services. In order to compensate the loss of spectrum, the telecom ministry agreed to provide fibre cable network for armed forces across the country at a cost of Rs 10000 cr (US $ 2.2  billion). The telecom ministry also agreed for a waiver of Rs 938 cr (US $ 208 million) to the defence ministry and agreed to allocate 30% of the all frequencies in the non communication bands.

6. 3G and BWA spectrum allocation

Over the years the government has been taking steps to frame policies to ensure efficient utilization of spectrum, which is a scarce resource. However efforts of DOT and TRAI have resulted in controversies. Therefore the Government decided to go ahead with the auctioning of 3G and BWA spectrum with a open and transparent format which resulted in the Government earning Rs 67719 cr (US $ 15.05 billion) for 3G spectrum and Rs 38543 cr (US $ 8.6 billion) for BWA spectrum. Spectrum required for the launch of 3G and BWA services is yet to be vacated by the defence department and is expected to be available by September 2010,   TRAI has now recommended that the excess 2G spectrum with the operators also need to be valued at the 3G prices and recovered from the existing operators, which is strongly opposed by the GSM operators.
7. Conclusion

The operators need additional spectrum to improve the quality of services. The Government should formulate a spectrum policy which will promote efficient use of spectrum by developing market incentives and differential pricing of spectrum in congested areas. An open and transparent auction format will ensure that the government realizes the best price for spectrum as per the market forces and at the same time the telecom operators minimize and efficiently use the spectrum.

Article Courtesy : ArticleBase.com

The author can be reached at vsmoni@hotmail.com. To read more articles on telecom, visit indiatelecomonline.com

Another important article Specturm is at HowStuffWork.com.

Read it here :  How the Radio Spectrum Works


  1. hey..

    Thanks. That calrifies a lot. I had been reading artciles on spectrum allocation and spectrum sharing, but did not have much clue about it. Your article helped a lot in providing the necessary clarity.


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