SPECTRUM MANAGEMENT: New Realities



It is well-known that wireless communication links are expected to exceed the
wireline communication links. In fact, in some countries like Finland, it has
already happened. Spectrum is probably the only resource equally available to
all the countries. However, neither the entire spectrum can be set aside for
telecommunications services nor is it practical.

International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has been coordinating radio
frequency allocations for over a century now. Radio Bureau of ITU (ITU-R) works
towards international coordination of radio frequencies, though national
allocations are within the domain of the respective national administrations.
However, the national administrations have to work in-line with the acts of the
World Radio Conferences (WRC), held periodically under the aegis of ITU-R.

The whole world has been divided into three regions by ITU-R for the purpose
of regional coordination policies. India falls in the Region-3. Following NTP
1999, for the first time, National Frequency Allocation Plan 2000 (NFAP) was
released as a public document. Currently, it is undergoing revision and the
revised NFAP will be effective from January 2002.

At this juncture, it is not only necessary that the NFAP be reviewed and
reworked, but also the whole issue of spectrum management be streamlined along
with rationalization of spectrum charges.

Guiding Principles for Spectrum Management

  • Supreme Court on regulation of frequencies

The Supreme Court has held (in Secretary of Information and
Broadcasting Vs Cricket Association Bengal, AIR 1995 S.C. 1236 ) that (emphasis
supplied):

“…There is no doubt that since the
airwaves/frequencies are public property and are also limited, they have to be
used in the best interest of the society and this can be done either by a
central authority, by establishing its own broadcasting network or regulating
the grant of licenses to other agencies, including the private agencies…”

  • Convergence

Of late, much focus has been on the convergence of carriage
(conduit), with the motive to deliver different types of applications and
content through the same physical path.

This has resulted in the requirement of high-speed last mile
access solutions. Besides, new modulation and coding technologies have been
effectively used to enable optimal utilization in the deployment of wireless
services for mobile, paging and especially, for the Internet.

Though mobile phone is one of the most visible aspect of
wireless communication, we must bear in mind that it is still a small subset of
a wide range of wireless communication service. It is estimated that the number
of RF links in the country for last mile access for the Internet services alone,
will grow beyond 5,000 within the year 2001, and by 2005, the same is expected
to cross 1 million.

Since IP technology is the platform for convergence, adequate
provisions have to be made for frequency allocation for the exponentially
growing needs for IP-based services, in various frequency bands.

The Convergence Communications Bill 2000 which was recently
introduced in the Parliament, covers issues related to spectrum management.
However, we need not wait till this bill turns into a statute. Most of the
reforms can be done without waiting for the passage of this bill and the
implementation thereof.

  • Current procedure of wireless licensing

The applicants are allotted through an Agreement Letter,
particular frequencies with other technical parameters, and the sites are
cleared through an elaborate though dated procedure by the SACFA.

Thereafter, the payment of royalty and license fee is made
before the license for operation of wireless link is granted. Agreement letters
are to be converted into an operating license within a year, and the license is
to be renewed every subsequent year (by payment of royalty and license fee).

Besides the requirement of specific import licenses from WPC
for most of the wireless equipment used by the service providers, there are
separate licenses for possession of wireless equipment and trade therein. It
might be a shock for the younger generation to learn that till the early
eighties, there was an annual license fee for every radio, transistor and TV set
in the country!

  • National spectrum register

WPC does maintain National Frequency Register (NFR),
including details of particular frequency spots, emission, power and other
technical details, and site details, etc. However, it contains details of the
frequencies allocated as per the agreement letters.

Quite naturally, not all agreement letters get converted into
operating licenses and those which do, are not necessarily renewed in the
subsequent years, perpetually. The following are the main reasons:

  • Non-clearance of sites

  • Delay in procurement of equipment

  • Obsolescence of equipment or technology

  • Change in business plan

  • Technological or equipment evolutions

  • Global nature of certain types of services (e.g. roaming)

  • Interference from other links

Hence, it is of utmost importance for us to take stock of the
following types of scenarios:

  • Details of frequency allocations as per currently valid
    operating licenses

  • Details of frequency allocations as per valid agreement
    letters

  • The latest NFAP

  • ITU and WRC proceedings

  • Emerging requirements of various users

  • Evolving technologies

As on date, there is no single repository containing details
of the current valid operating licenses and the current valid frequency
allocations. The dynamism in this aspect is very critical and hence, updating of
records would guide the technical assessment before grant of any spectrum.

  • National security

Wireless communication for national security is vital, and
the same may be allocated without any payment of royalty for spectrum usage.
However, the security agencies should cooperate with other users of spectrum, so
that benefits of technological innovations may be provided to the Indian
citizens as well.

  • Obsolete concept of major users

It is well established that radio spectrum is a finite
resource and hence, must be used effectively. Though traditionally, government
departments and public sector units were the major users of spectrum, but since
the last ten years, wireless communication services provided by new service
providers (mostly, private sector ones) have been gaining important
consideration.

In fact, during the evolution of NFAP-2000 itself, the
concept of major users was done away with. Time has come to recognize the users
or subscribers as the major users.

  • Impact of spectrum charges on frequency allocation

One of the significant and effective way for optimal
utilization of a spectrum is by assigning economic value to the same. This puts
onus on all the users to use spectrum efficiently and effectively, while also
freeing up the spectrum from non-serious users.

In this context, it is imperative that except for security
services, all other users must pay for the spectrum in a non-discriminatory
manner. SACFA members may make suitable provisions for spectrum charges in their
respective budgets or plans.

Spectrum allocation which is on non-interference,
non-protection basis, should attract significantly lower royalty for usage
vis-à-vis those which are protected.

Such a move will also release a lot of spectrum from those
users who are either not using the allocated spectrum or are not even paying for
the same.

  • Rationalization for spectrum charges for
    point-to-multipoint links

In case of cellular and paging services, there is no
incremental royalty for every additional subscriber, and this treatment must be
extended to all the other services as well. The prevailing system of additional
25 percent extra royalty per link makes the deployment of radio links for last
mile access, prohibitively costly.

  • Protection to existing links

While it is appreciated that the existing links with valid
operating licenses must be protected, the same should not qualify for protection
in new allocations even to the SACFA members.

  • Sharing and co-existence

Internet has been evolving as a platform where sharing and
co-existence is of paramount importance not only to the upcoming players but
also to the incumbents. Hence, spectrum must be shared by various users in an
effective manner so that various service providers co-exist, grow and prosper.

  • Simplification of siting clearance procedure

Any potential radio link site has to be applied in a very
elaborate manner and the application copies are to be circulated amongst
nineteen members of SACFA. Thereafter, No Objection Certificate (NOC) is to be
obtained from all of them before clearance is granted. The whole procedure takes
about three months (under the best of the conditions). However, with the recent
spate of new applications by service providers (basic, cellular and Internet)
both belonging to public sector and private sector, would only elongate the
delays by a few more months unless the procedures are overhauled.

Siting applications are examined from three critical aspects,
viz aviation safety, chances of obstruction to existing line-of-sight links with
valid operating licenses, and the extent of electro-magnetic interference to
radio links in proximity.

Though automation of the ‘Spectrum Management’ is part of
the project being funded under the World Bank aid, the existing procedure must
be simplified and automated. Further, if any SACFA member does not give feedback
within thirty days, the respective site should be deemed as cleared, without any
recourse.

Besides, sites of customer-end antennae should be brought
under the automatic route, subject to reasonable restrictions on power output,
size, height above ground level etc.

  • Global perspective

Quite often, the usage of spectrum has to be coordinated
internationally, e.g. for satellite-based services or applications, GMPCS,
aviation and shipping, and roaming facility for wireless communication devices.

  • Data rate limits

WPC must not place any restrictions on the data rates
achievable through a particular RF link. Rather, it should focus on frequency
allocation only and the associated parameters like emission and channeling plan.

  • Frequency allocation for bluetooth and wireless LAN

For deployment within public premises, there should be no
licensing at all, as long as the external emissions are within the specified
threshold and no towers are erected beyond three meters from the rooftops.

Spectrum management is a challenge for everyone and more so
with the realization that it can cause significant economic impact. Typically,
anybody given a free spectrum would cry and strive for perpetual protection. At
the same time, most of the such users also expect to accommodate their new
requests by other users in various bands.

Such averments run contrary to not only the judgment of the
Supreme Court, but are also against the basic tenets of radio communication
which has been thriving on ‘sharing, co-ordination and co-operation’. Hence,
earnest and concerted efforts must be made by all the stake-holders to make the
whole process transparent, expeditious and effective.

Deepak Maheshwari, Sr manager, corporate affairs, Satyam Infoway

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