Science & Technology

CAG report highlights gaps in spectrum allocations

India’s 5G spectrum auction has begun, entering day 3 July 28, 2022

By Rohini Krishnamurthy
Published: Thursday 28 July 2022

Spectrum allocations in India have been conducted on an ad hoc basis between 2012 and 2021, according to a performance audit of spectrum management by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG).

This has led to uncertainties in the availability of the resource to the government while also causing delays in spectrum assignments, the CAG report released July 18, 2022, stated.

Spectrum (radio waves) is an essential resource with economic value. The CAG report highlighted gaps in allocation, stating that those allotted to the government are either sub-optimally utilised or unused. The government allocates spectrum, which is utilised for 2G, 3G, 4G and also 5G services.

Government departments have been assigned spectrum in the bands — 470-646 Megahertz (MHz), 700 MHz, 900 MHz, 1427-1500 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300-2400 MHz, 2500-2690 MHz, 3300-3670 MHz and 24.25-28.5 Gigahertz (GHz).

There is an ad hoc arrangement in the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) for the opening of the application window for spectrum allocation on a provisional basis,the report read.

The report found a large quantity of spectrum lying idle in these bands. “The DoT is yet to take action regarding the auction or allotment of spectrum to the government or private users, it added.

For instance, the utilisation of spectrum by the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in band 470-698 MHz, allotted during 1989-2013, was suboptimal.

This is due to the obsolete technology of analogue terrestrial television and the non-viability of digital terrestrial television, noted the report.

The railways, too, faced a similar fate. A 1.6 MHz paired spectrum in the 900 Mhz band was allotted to the sector since 2003. It was provided for the functioning of the Global System for Mobile Communications-Railway-based Mobile Train Radio Communications (MTRC) system. MTRC is an international wireless communications standard for railway communication and applications.

The Railways could commission MTRC equipment only in 57.9 per cent of routes planned, covering nine out of 22 service areas, according to the report. The under-utilisation is due to the non-maintenance of equipment and the unavailability of spare parts.

Also, the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation surrendered the allotted spectrum in 3.3-3.4 GHz and 7 GHz bands in December 2019 and November 2020, after keeping them ideal for four to nine years. This was due to the poor contract management, according to the report.

Additionally, the report pointed out that DoT has not taken steps to assess technological developments worldwide, which was mandated by National Digital Communication Policy, 2018.

The country lacks efforts to monitor spectrum use. The absence of sufficient and updated monitoring equipment and enforcement groups is the reason behind this, said the report.

DoT is yet to approve proposals to procure the required equipment. DoT does not have a standardised mechanism in place for monitoring spectrum use by government departments or agencies, according to the findings.

India’s 5G spectrum auction has begun, entering day 3 July 28, 2022. The auctions garnered Rs 1.49 lakh crores, according to news agency, Press Trust Of India. Reliance Jio and Adani group had reportedly set aside Rs 14,000 crores and Rs 100 crores. Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea have deposited Rs 5,500 crores and Rs 2,200 crores, respectively. 

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