Towards a spectrum solution

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SummaryThe concept of pooled spectrum has been examined for long.

need for federal spectrum is also rising. Aerial systems, surveillance and reconnaissance needs around the world and in India are leading to far greater demand than before. Hence, we need far more spectrum than earlier. Is it possible to give this spectrum viably with the present user wise allocation/auction method of this resource, so far treated akin to land, or do we need to explore other options for allocation of additional spectrum?

There are already two different regulatory models prevalent on the networks. On one hand, telecom companies have already spent billions in acquiring allocated 2G, 3G and 4G spectrum, and are under severe financial pressure, putting pressure on tariffs, which will put these services beyond the reach of the neediest, or make reach to the neediest subservient to inefficient government subsidies. On the other hand, there are already models of free spectrum on networks—such as the Wi-Fi spectrum, which operates as unlicensed spectrum, and is growing at a phenomenal pace. We have such spectrum in household phones too—the pooled spectrum for cordless phones. If the additional spectrum can be interference-free between users, we move to the model of spectrum being like the sea—turning scarcity into abundance. This expansion can be done in a way that it will not result in loss of revenue to the central government, but result in new revenues either from enhanced economic growth and innovation or from modest increases in leasing fees. Empirical studies in the US show that the availability of spectrum in such a model increases by 1,000 times. Again, the empirical studies in the US show that about 1,000 Mhz of government spectrum can be considered for commercial use, involving, of course, a lot of refarming of spectrum, an expensive job for the government. But this would lead to far greater benefits in the long run, and put India again at the forefront. “The essential element of this new federal spectrum architecture is that the norm for spectrum use should be sharing, not exclusivity. Technological innovations of recent years make this transformation eminently possible” (2012 report of the US). Spectrum would then be managed not by fragmenting, but by specifying large frequency bands that can accommodate a wide variety of compatible uses and new technologies that are more efficient with large blocks of spectrum. The US report recently submitted clearly specifies the roadmap.

In the world today, more devices are connected to the internet

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