All about mobile spectrum

India’s demand for mobile phones is almost insatiable. Telecom companies are falling over themselves to cash in on it, even if it means resorting to unethical deeds

 
Published: Thursday 17 September 2015

Whether it’s the high-profile 2G scandal or the Antrix-Devas deal, spectrum has been at the centre of both the controversies.  In the 2G case, former telecom minister A Raja gifted away 2G spectrum licences to nine telecom companies at very low rates. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) put down the loss to government in the deals at Rs 1.76 lakh crore. In the Antrix-Devas deal, Devas Multimedia Pvt. Ltd., constituted by former ISRO employees, entered into a contract with Antrix Corporation, ISRO’s commercial arm. ISRO sold 70 MHz in the 2.5 GHz spectrum at throwaway prices to Devas. CAG estimates the loss of revenue to the government from Antrix’s deal with Devas at Rs 2 lakh crore.

A look at what spectrum is all about:

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.

radioEnergy 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 imagephones 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. 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 imageservices.

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.

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2G SPECTRUM SCAM

image2008:

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 Regulatory 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

S BAND SCAM

image2004: 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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