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Mainstream, Vol XLIX No 17, April 16, 2011

Spectrum Management — Paradigm and Perspectives

Thursday 21 April 2011, by Latika Nath

India is a space power, with the capability to launch satellites in space. Very few nations of the world make up this elite club. Some govern-ments and companies are owner/operators of satellites, thus contributing to the rapid growth of the space industry. The commercialisation of outer space removed the mystique and magic of such activities in outer space, and this represents the developing field of economic growth. Some years ago these activities were exclusively reserved for the governments; now with competition and rapid growth private enterprise has entered this field.

With the development of technologies and globalisation, there was a demand from the broadcasting and mobile industry for the launch and use of such satellites. As private enterprise flourished, there was a rising demand for the use of the valuable spectrum band. The radio spectrum refers to the electro-magnetic spectrum with corresponding radio frequencies. This is an extremely valuable asset. The radio communi-cation sector of the International Telecommuni-cation Union (ITU) deals with radio frequency management. Satellite positions are registered in order to avoid interference between satellites of different countries also called Spectrum Management.

The ITU is one of the oldest inter-governmental organisations, now a specialised agency of the UN. It works to improve the telecommunication infrastructure, by allocating the use of radio-spectrum globally. This Geneva-based organisation has an interest in wireless technologies and next gen networks. About 192 member countries and approximately 700 sector members come together and make available new technologies relating to information and communication. New technologies are developed and applied. Further, mobile device-makers and network equipment manu-facturers can develop country specific products (that is compatible with the required radio frequency).

According to radio spectrum has assumed importance as it is a critical requirement of the telecommunication sector, for example, the Wimax service providers need to use the S band spectrum for wireless broad band and also 4G technologies like the Long Term Evolution (LTE). As a consequence there is a significant crowding of the frequency for mobile service providers. The S band is both valuable and unique because a substantial amount of the spectrum (2-4 Ghz) can be used for mobile services.

In 2000 the World Radio Communication (WRC) Conference, due to the keen interest evinced in global mobile, broad band at 2.6 Ghz was allocated for terrestrial mobile services; it was hoped that it would meet with the growing demand of mobile service operations. Some time ago Inmarsat Ventures and Solaris Mobile selected two operators to provide the mobile satellite service using the S band with application to cover all the 27 member states in Europe. Telia Soneza, a mobile operator in Finland, uses the S band to launch 4G mobile services based on the LTE technology. Some countries have sold this asset, namely, the S band, for billions of dollars.

In India the Department of Space uses the S band for cyclone warning, radio networking, satellite, mobile and TV applications. Decades ago the Bharat Sanchar Nigam and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam were allocated 20 Mhz at the cost of Rs 12.847 crores whereas Devas Multi-media Pvt Ltd sought 70 Mhz for Rs 1000 crores a few years ago. Due to the spectacular growth and demand for mobile services and the evolution of digital multimedia service via satellite, the importance of the S band grew rapidly. By 1990 the ITU started allocating segments of the S band for mobile services—both satellite and land based. Those with knowledge and information of future application and potential could use it to their advantage as it was still developing and in the nascent stage. With the growing demand for this valuable asset by countries and private enterprise alike, Devas Multimedia stepped in to offer its services. With developments such as the S-Digital Multimedia Broadcasting (S-DMB), seemless multiple comm-unication systems would be an added asset for mobile communication service providers. Such Korea used this technology in 2005. In India, before its importance and potential could be recognised, a deal was entered into by Antrix and Devas. The projected loss to the Indian exchequer was estimated at billions of dollars and foreign equity from Deutshe Telecom got a 17 per cent stake at the cost of the billions of dollars. Regulation and guidelines need to be incorporated in this field to see that the asset of a sovereign country is not frittered away at the behest of a few.

THE ISRO’s deal to build and launch two customer specific satellites and to use them for purely commercial purposes was itself a surprise to the general public. Although the use of novel technologies as developed by Devas by itself could not compensate for the expenses incurred as the cost was enormous. The approved cost of manufacture of the G-Sat-6 was estimated at approximately Rs 6.269 crores in 2005 and the G-Sat-6A at approximately Rs 147 crores in 2007—together the cost of launching would be approximately Rs 350 crores. A precious public asset was quietly transferred into the hands of the private enterprise which would rake in huge profits for the company and not the government. Many of the competent authorities remained silent or unaware of the matter giving scope for doubt. Some unanswered questions remain, such as the one-sidedness of the contract and the control of the satellite transponders by private hands. Even the Ministry of Defence was unaware of the availability of the S band for its own use or for the para-military, railways and others.

Access to the radio spectrum being a critical requirement of the telecom sector, it needs to be regulated in the light of these developments. Many nations regulate the sector for reasons of strategic importance. However, in the light of the rising demand for this scarce resource and for reasons of policy, the commercial application of this scarce resource needs to be reviewed thoroughly. The S band has an important role to play in future. Such an important national asset must be reviewed, including its commercial application, in the light of present-day develop-ments. With proper procedures in place there will be little room for secret deals/contracts.

India, a space power of the developing world, will play an important role at the international level. With launch capability and competitive rates India will be a pioneer space power in the near future. Co-operation with the private sector and the benefit of the new technologies can be made available to all in the field of information and telecommunication, that is, internet, electronic mail and multimedia. As a matter of policy if India continues to hold on 2.5 Ghz, it may in the long run lose to other global agencies which will benefit by offering their multimedia services to this sector. Demand and supply are essential for any private enterprise to flourish. A policy decision in this matter is an absolute necessity at present.

Amidst growing demand, the TRAI needs to review its policies, especially with the upcoming World Radio Communication Conference next year. Seemless wireless systems could provide services such as voice, video and data to the urban, rural and remote regions of India, like the Terre-Star Corporation in Europe. It seems that the time is light for all agencies and the government to take into account important factors and bring about a compre-hensive policy to deal with spectrum manage-ment in India.

Dr Lathika Nath is an Associate Professor, Depart-ment of Law, Bangalore University, Bangalore.

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