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Column : Towards spectrum famine: need for rethink

Jan 04 2013, 00:44 IST
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SummaryAn interesting feature of mobile telecom networks is that the main resource for running these networks—spectrum—is the same everywhere, whether in New York or in Jhumri Telaiya.

The pooling of spectrum could offset its increasing scarcity

An interesting feature of mobile telecom networks is that the main resource for running these networks—spectrum—is the same everywhere, whether in New York or in Jhumri Telaiya. The main issue is how this resource is being used—a function of law, regulation, allocation, equipment and technology. Again, in the worldwide connected network, the laws of usage, allocation and regulation are similar in the long run, as also the equipment manufacturers, technologies and the standards—courtesy mostly the evolution of bodies like International Telecommunications Union to facilitate the running of this worldwide connected network, and the big manufacturers having enormous economies of scale while manufacturing for the same frequencies. The only difference in spectrum availability and network quality is dependent on how aggressively or quickly different countries reform/adopt to international standards/allocate spectrum.

To give an example, mobile/wireless technologies appeared in developed countries in the early 1980s. We debated their viability and did not adopt them in India till mid 1990s, and were left behind. Most countries appointed network regulators to deal with regulation and interconnection issues of the emerging multi-operator scenario on the network. We did not appoint regulators on emerged mobile networks till 1997, and moved slowly forward. Again, we were slow in assessing the impact of digitisation/convergence/unification on the network structure/regulations, and failed to grow. It was only when the government adopted unified access licence in November 2003 did the mobile network started growing fast. It then grew so fast that we overcame the rates of growth of even China, by three times, the fastest development in the world so far. Before 2003, India used to be a mobile network almost at the bottom of the league. By 2011, it almost reached the top.

With digitisation, the telecom, internet (or broadband) and broadcasting networks are becoming similar, if not the same. This requires that to take full advantage of converged technologies/digitisation, we either move to converged or to unified networks, like most countries have. A Converged Communication Law was finalised by the government with the help of a high powered committee headed by the eminent jurist Fali Nariman and introduced in Parliament in 2001, and later cleared by a parliamentary select committee headed by another eminent jurist and parliamentarian Somnath Chatterjee in 2004. It has, however, not become law yet. Subsequently, Trai recommended a unified licence in early 2005. It has also not become law

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