Indian spectrum management is plagued by adhocism

by dr. Gyan Pathak

Spectrum (radio waves) is a scarce commodity and almost everyone may have heard about 2G, 3G, 4G and now 5G. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been advocating for it for some time now. However, it would be shocking to know that spectrum management in India has always been plagued by adhocism, leaving its availability uncertain, delayed, underused and in many cases denied, although it is recognized worldwide as an important tool for the socio-economic development of a country and it is necessary for all wireless applications, including mobile phones. Government and public institutions need it to provide public services while the private organizations need it to add value to their services.

It has been revealed in the performance audit of the Controller and Auditor General of India (CAG) which covers the period 2012-2021 and which covers all spectrum allocated in IMT bands under the Ministry of Communications (DoT), Ministry of Defense (MoD), Ministry of Railways (MoR), Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB), Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Department of Space (DoS) and four Public Sector Undertakings – the Oil and Natural Gas (ONGC), Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL), Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) and Airports Authority of India (AAI). Spectrum mapped in non-IMT bands was also checked for performance.

It’s just a mockery of the 2018 National Digital Communication Policy (NDCP) goal that says “to develop a transparent, normative and fair spectrum allocation and allocation policy,” whether through auction or administrative allocation. Even the Supreme Court of India ruled in February 2012 on the allocation of spectrum for access services. However, it was seen that there was an ad hoc arrangement in DoT for opening application windows for three/six months for the allocation/allocation of spectrum administratively for both internal use and other commercial services on a provisional basis. This has led not only to uncertainties about resource availability among government users, but also to delays in spectrum allocations and, in some cases, spectrum denial,” the CAG reported.

DoT also had not administratively revised the pricing of spectrum allocated to fixed users since 2012, on a formula basis, although a commission recommended a periodic review of the pricing policy in 2013. There was no differential pricing for spectrum, depending on its features and usage. of different spectrum bands allocated to government users, CAG said.

There is a standing committee called Standing Advisory Committee on Frequency Allocation in DoT, which makes recommendations on simple issues with limited role. However, DoT hadn’t even formed a standing committee to advise them on complex spectrum management issues, including spectrum rethinking, for efficient and optimal use.

CAG says decision-making in DoT has been plagued by adhocism and the lack of a permanent mechanism in the department, which included all government stakeholders to advise them on important issues. There was not even an arrangement to study technological developments worldwide before proposing their deployment in India to spectrum users as required by NDCP 2018.

By June 2015, DoT had established seven working groups to identify frequencies for government users. However, between March 2016 and February 2021, only four had submitted their final recommendations, although these working groups had to submit their recommendations within six months. In addition, DoT had not even made a final decision on the recommendations received so far.

Even spectrum allocated/allocated to government services in different specific bands was found to be under-utilized or not used at all for years. There was a large amount of inactive spectrum.

The spectrum in the band 470-698 MHz was allocated to MIB way back in 1989-2013, but usage remained sub-optimal due to the outdated technology of Analogue Terrestrial Television (ATT) and the non-viability of Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) . DoT had not yet finalized their decision regarding the recommendations of the Working Group for the 470-520 MHz Band and the Committee of Secretaries (CoS) on the 120 MHz (526-646 MHz) spectrum and therefore these bands cannot be made available posed on a pan India basis for IMT (5G) applications.

Railways had been allocated 1.6 MHz coupled spectrum on a pan-Indian basis in the commercially important 900 MHz band since 2003 for its GSM-R based Mobile Train Radio Communications (MTRC) system. However, they were only able to deploy MTRC equipment on 57.90 percent of the planned routes covering nine of the 22 service areas.

Spectrum in 2100 MHz and 2300-2400 MHz frequency bands, being IMT bands, has enormous commercial value. The spectrum in these commercially important bands was unused/sub-optimally used by government users and DoT needed to be harmonized or leave the unused spectrum.

Frequency band 2500-2690 MHz identified for IMT applications for both terrestrial and satellite based services, but of the 190 MHz available Spectrum due to interference only 40 MHz was allocated/allocated for IMT applications and satellites (GSAT 6, 7 and 17) in the existing operations and lack of coordination between DoT and DoS for a good technological solution for the coexistence of both services, leading to sub-optimal use of spectrum in this band.

Similarly, Spectrum in the 3.3GHz – 3.6GHz band had been identified for both terrestrial and satellite-based services, but DoS and DoT had not identified a suitable technological solution and usage limitations in such a way that both services can co-exist in these tires.

Automated Spectrum Management System (ASMS) was implemented by DoT in 2005, but outdated and poorly maintained equipment/systems lead to ineffective spectrum management in WPC (DoT). The National Frequency Register (NFR) was also not updated and there was a large-scale mismatch in the database regarding spectrum allocated to government departments/PSUs/agencies.

Several departments/agencies were found using spectrum without valid wireless control licenses.

The Wireless Monitoring Organization (WMO) did not have sufficient and up-to-date monitoring equipment or enforcement groups.

Bandwidth capabilities on GSAT 29, GSAT 19, and GSAT 11 remained dormant for a long time.

The Orbit Spectrum Coordination and Acquisition Wing (OSCA) operating under ISRO appears to have weakness in its oversight and review mechanism.

Directorate of Coordination, Police Wireless (DCPW) for Police Telecommunications MHA has not established policies regarding spectrum and equipment required to meet all emergency requirements.

POLNET, a nationwide C-band satellite-based Captive Communication Network/Digital Information Highway, is underutilized as it was not yet fully operational due to some Hub flaws.

ONGC was unable to deploy its planned networks due to poor contract management and surrendered its allocated spectrum in the 3.3-3.4 GHz and 7 GHz bands in December 2019 and November 2020 respectively.

Frequency slots allocated to Airports Authority of India remained unused for years at several airports due to delayed equipment procurement/untimely project completion. (IPA service)

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