Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What's the big deal about S-band spectrum?

Thomas K. Thomas

Madhumathi D.S.

New Delhi/Bangalore, Feb. 6:

The S-band spectrum, which is part of the Devas-ISRO deal, is extremely valuable for mobile broadband services, in terms of usage as well as money.

The frequency, also known as 2.5 Ghz band, is globally used for providing mobile broadband services using fourth generation technologies such as WiMax and Long Term Evolution (LTE).

This frequency band is unique because it has a substantial amount of spectrum (190 MHz) that can be put to use for mobile services. All other spectrum bands up to 3.5 GHz include significantly smaller amounts of spectrum for terrestrial mobile communication, or are not available.

In India, of the 190 Mhz, the Department of Space was given 150 Mhz – 30 years ago – for Broadcast Satellite Service and Mobile Satellite Service. Twenty Mhz was recently given to Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd for offering broadband spectrum.

BSNL and MTNL were asked to pay Rs 12,847 crore for their 20 Mhz. But Devas is getting access to 70 Mhz in the same band for just over Rs 1,000 crore.

Global prices

Globally, this frequency band has been put up for auction in many countries and has fetched governments billions of dollars. In 2009, three operators together paid HK $1.53 billion for 90 MHz of radio spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band.

A few months ago, Finland-based mobile operator Telia Sonera launched 4G mobile services based on LTE technology in this band.

Operators in several other countries such as Brazil and South Africa are on the verge of using the S-band after the World Radio communication Conference 2000, held under the aegis of the International Telecommunication Union, designated the 2.5 Ghz band for mobile services.

Using the Spectrum

The usability of spectrum depends on how harmonious it is with global usage. That is because mobile device makers and network equipment manufacturers can focus on developing products for a specific radio frequency for every country. If each country were to have its own plan for using spectrum, then telecom networks and devices would become very complex and expensive.

So if most countries are moving towards adopting 2.5 Ghz for telecom services, India will lose out if the satellite agency continues to hold on to it.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has already recommended that it would like to review the usage of this frequency band by the incumbents and refarm it for commercial mobile services.


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