Convergence Bill- The Battle for the Spectrum
naavi.org/CCB-note 4

One of the important provisions of the Communication Convergence Bill refers to the policies regarding Frequency Spectrum Management covered under Chapter VI. 

Spectrum Management refers to the management of the "Radio Frequency Band" and  is the combination of administrative and technical procedures necessary to ensure the efficient operation of radio communication services.  Radio Frequency Spectrum and satellite orbits including geostationary satellite orbits are scarce natural resource, susceptible to harmful interference and is international in character since radio waves cannot be confined to national boundaries. Like any other natural resource it cannot be owned but shared amongst various countries, services, users, technologies, etc. Assignment of frequencies is governed by international treaty formulated under the aegis of International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which is signed and ratified by Government of India. Further, this is also subject to various other international agreements entered into with other countries. In accordance with international treaty all frequency bands are shared by all countries for different types of radio communication services and there are no exclusive frequency allocations for a particular service, country, user or organisation.

Accordingly, the frequencies are shared by various organisations like Defence, Police, Intelligence and other Security agencies, Public Telecommunications, Broadcasting, Railways, Public Utility Organisations, Oil and Electricity Grids, Atomic Energy, Mining and Steel, Shipping and Airlines, and so on, for variety of applications including aeronautical and maritime safety communications, radars, seismic surveys, rocket and satellite launching, earth exploration, natural calamities forecasting etc. A frequency which is being used in one place by private operator may be used by a Government agency for some other purpose in another place leading to the frequency reuse on spatial basis.

With the proliferation of new technologies being inducted in to the country, the demand on spectrum by users has increased manifold. Modern telecommunication technologies rely heavily on radio communications. Newer and newer radio communication services, technologies and applications are emerging on the horizon with tremendous speed, further exponentially increasing the demands on the already congested radio frequency spectrum.

Thus, spectrum is the most fundamental, but at the same time, a highly scarce resource which is essential for development of all radio based telecommunication services.Therefore, efficient spectrum management needs to be the art and science of carefully planning spectrum allocation in a coordinated manner without compromising national interests and then speedily and efficiently assigning frequencies for the benefit of users at large and with minimum scope of harmful interference. 

All the NATO countries and several NATO allies have adopted the ‘NATO Band’ for their defence requirements of the spectrum. The non-‘NATO Band’ therefore accommodates most of the commercial / public service telecom in those countries. Several countries, including India, have not adopted the ‘NATO Band’ for their Defence spectrum requirements. In view of this, the cost-effective commercial equipment bought by India from these countries fall in the non-‘NATO Band’, a good part of which overlaps the Indian Defence Spectrum bands. It is this important factor which has resulted in major contentions of the commercial public telecom services with the already occupied defence spectrum bands. 

Added to this, is the fact that Indian defence also buys a sizeable part of this telecom/radar and avionics equipment requirements from both NATO countries and non-NATO countries. These factors have resulted in major spectral constraints, in the bands allotted to defence.

Also, there are applications where, in effect, 'fences' can be built around  electro-magnetic 'spaces'. By so controlling both the performance characteristics and placement/operation of radio equipment, the concept of the spectrum, as an economic resource, can be conceived similar to real estate - it is occupied, but not consumed or depleted by its users. Scarcity results from the occupation of a channel/band/window by  one operator by preventing others from using the same channel/band/window at the  same time. As in real estates, the usable quantity of the resources can be expanded  with additional capital investment like sky-scrappers creating more space on a given    part of the land - through such methods as channel splitting, innovative modulation    techniques, spread spectrum, etc. Viewed in terms of this limited analogy, equipment    standards are analogous to architecture and separation rules with power limits are     analogous to 'fences' separating the parts of the land. 

The Communication Convergence Bill envisages that the Spectrum Management Responsibilities would be entrusted to a "Spectrum Management Committee" with the cabinet secretary as its Chairman and consisting of such other memebrs as may be notified from time to time. The Central Government will also notiffy one of its officers as the "Spectrum Manager, Government of India" to act as Member Secretary to the Spectrum Mangement Committee.

1.Co ordinate with Internationa Agencies
2.Carry out Spectrum Planning and allocate frequencies 
3.Monitor, Review and Re allocate Frequencies.

Additionally, the Spectrum Mangement Committee  may have to decide on "Pricing" of the Spectrum including allocation of "Free Spectrum" for some public utilitiies, the manner of allocation including :Auctioning" etc. The Committee will also have to consider the security aspects and policies to ensure protection of national interests. It may also be necessary for the Committee to lay down policies on Standards, Specifications, and Equipment authorisation.

Even before the Communication Convergence Bill is in place, the fight for the Spectrum has a already begun.  The cellular operators have in a letter to the DOT urged the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to allot the additional  spectrum to the existing cellular mobile service providers on a preferential basis. The letter seems to be in response to the fact that the government issued guidelines for fixed licence on January 25, 2001, wherein it has offered to allot certain frequencies (824-844 MHz paired with 869-889 MHz band and the 1880-1900 MHz band) to basic service operators. In the light of the Communication Convergence Bill, this exchange of letters is of no relevance...unless it is indicative of an attempt to occupy frequency spaces by influential operators and an attempt to use the available Powers at the Ministry before new equations of power are drawn.

Related Article in Indian Express

February 11, 2001
Your views can be sent here

Back to naavi.org