Column: Making scarce spectrum deliver more

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SummaryWe know that as long as current management practices continue, radio spectrum will remain a scarce resource.

To increase the information-carrying capacity of a channel, its bandwidth increase is the only solution

Pradip Baijal & Satya N Gupta

We know that as long as current management practices continue, radio spectrum will remain a scarce resource. Regulators and governments the world over are struggling to counter the crunch for decades to meet the ever-increasing demand from the operators, who are trying to meet the ever-increasing aspiration for high bandwidth consuming applications on their mobiles.

In reality, radio spectrum is not really scarce. Studies and reports to the governments by expert bodies in the US, the UK and the European Union have shown that the finite spectrum is currently highly mismanaged and grossly underutilised. To increase the information-carrying capacity of a channel, its bandwidth increase is the only solution. This can be achieved by avoiding fragmentation of spectrum, and techniques are now available to avoid fragmentation, even in a multi-operator multi-usage environment.

As an analogy, spectrum can be equated to real estate, which may be finite, but through multi-storied sky scrapers, the capacity of a build-up area on the same land can really be enormous. Real estate is also constrained by regulation (floor space index) and the technology and construction material used.

As far as options to enhance capacity are concerned, a niche role is required to be played by each key stakeholder—government, regulators, operators and network providers. The option available with the operators is to make use of frequency re-use techniques as a trade-off between the spectrum required and the number of towers to serve a particular subscriber base/data carrying requirement. This option is hardly exploited due to obvious high capex implications. On the part of the vendors, they are required to embrace the next generation technologies based on packet switching in access network also, which is very efficient. Of course, more and more work is already happening in this direction and vendors and R&D persons are not resting. The main discussion in this article is for the spectrum manager to learn from innovations in the management of finite resources.

The role of spectrum managers, either the government or the regulator, in increasing the efficiency of radio spectrum is of paramount importance as, being the custodian of spectrum, they are the first and most significant stakeholders in this value chain. To meet the objective, they need to innovate in management of spectrum and learn from the various advancements in this field. Many reports on

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