Science & Technology

Spectrum allocation in India: journey so far

The Centre has set the stage for the largest spectrum auction ever. Let’s look back at the developments leading to government’s decision to auction spectrum and open up more bandwidth for the telecom industry

By Vibha Varshney, Dinsa Sachan, PADMAPARNA GHOSH
Last Updated: Friday 24 June 2016
Over the years, governemnt has opened up more bandwidth for the telecom industry Credit: Armando Alves / Flicker
Over the years, governemnt has opened up more bandwidth for the telecom industry Credit: Armando Alves / Flicker Over the years, governemnt has opened up more bandwidth for the telecom industry Credit: Armando Alves / Flicker

All about mobile spectrum

When the mobile phone was first launched about two decades ago, not many envisioned that such a bulky and expensive device would go on to become one of the world’s most indispensable modes of communication.

But despite its omnipresence many people are still ignorant how it functions.

Energy travels in the form of waves known as electromagnetic waves.

These waves differ from each other in terms of frequencies. This whole range of frequencies is called the spectrum. In telecommunication like TV, radio and GPRS, radio waves of different wavelengths are used.

They are divided into bands based on frequencies (see ‘Radio spectrum’).

Mobile phones use two technologies based on different parts of the radio spectrum— GSM (global system for mobile communications) and CDMA (code division multiple access).

Most of the radio spectrum is reserved in countries for defence.

The rest is available for public use. But following an increase in the number of phone users and new services, countries started auctioning the frequencies to telecom companies.

This sale has become a major revenue earner for governments around the world.

But in India, the case is different (see ‘How India lost to scams’). It is currently auctioning the spectrum in the range of 1959-1979 MHz.

Note: under stationary conditions, speeds reach two megabits per second

Source: Recommendations on
Spectrum Management and
Licensing Framework by TRAI

This, however, is not sufficient to meet the growing appetite for mobile phones and its services.

Telecom industries are now looking towards new options. S band spectrum, for instance. The frequency of radio waves in this band ranges from two to four GHz.

S band was allocated by the World Radiocommunication Conference, organised by International Telecommunication Union (ITU), in 2000 for terrestrial mobile communications services.

ITU is a UN body that regulates information and communication technology issues. S band was initially used by meteorology departments and communications satellites.

Mobile phones entered India based on 2G technology (see ‘Evolving mobile technology’).

Sixteen years later, demand for advanced technologies prompted the government to auction 2.1 GHz band for 3G services.


2008 Telecom minister A Raja issued 2G spectrum licences to nine telecom companies. The licences were sold according to 2001 rates, instead of 2008 rates. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) puts down the loss to government in the deals at Rs 1.76 lakh crore

2010 CAG recommends cancellation of 38 telecom licences, including ones issued in 2008, creating new demand. Telecom Regu - latory Authority of India (TRAI) has now decided to sell it at a fixed price. The new price is six times higher than 2008’s Rs 377 crore per MHz

2011 A Raja jailed on February 2


2004 Devas Multimedia Pvt. Ltd., constituted by former ISRO employees, launched

2005 Devas enters a contract with Antrix Corporation, ISRO’s commercial arm. ISRO to sell 70 MHz in the 2.5 GHz spectrum at throwaway prices to Devas

2010 TRAI auctions the spectrum between 2.3 and 2.4 GHz at market prices

2010 CAG estimates the loss of revenue to the government from Antrix’s deal with Devas at two lakh crore rupees

2011 Though ISRO directly reports to the prime minister, PMO was clueless about the contract. The deal gets scrapped after a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security. Presence of foreign nationals on the company’s board a reason for the axe

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  • Dear Author, You wrote quite

    Dear Author,

    You wrote quite a lot except about the effects of these mobiles on environmental health. There are strong reasons to hold this mobile technology responsible for disappearance of birds, insects and bees. An impartial and non-governmental research is required to look into this although no country of the world, especially India shall be ready to impose any regulations on the use of mobiles. These mobiles are certainly an environmental hazard, 'to what degree' is a matter of study.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • The health effects of mobile

    The health effects of mobile phone radiation have been studied and debated for long now. Please see the following stories we carried on this subject earlier.

    Posted by: Vibha Varshney | 4 years ago | Reply
  • Dear Anil, The so called

    Dear Anil,

    The so called environmental impact is not true. Consider this:
    1. TV transmitters operate in a similar freq. range (300-800Mhz). Their output power is maybe 100 times that of a cell phone tower. Have you heard about people or animals living near TV tranmission stations falling ill?
    2. While sparrows have decreased, pigeons have increased. Why have rats, lizards, dogs, cats, mosquitoes, cockroaches, goats, cows, buffalo and no other animals been affected? You may be aware of CCD (Complete Colony Disorder) disease in honey bees, which is caused by a virus, which wipes out bees and has nothing to do with radiation from cell towers
    3. Military installations, police, airport installations, aircrafts etc have been using radio communications for decades. How have they not been affected?
    4. Cancer is a leading killer in India and all over the world. The rates are increasing. The leading causes in India are lung, oral, mouth, stomach, breast, cervical cancers, which have nothing to do with cell towers. Brain cancers have not shown any increasing trend since 1995, when cellular telephony started in India OR even world over

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply