Agovernment review of frequencies used by state agencies and commercial users has set off a furious debate among satellite operators, wireless telecom firms and internet service providers, some of whom want to retain the spectrum allocated to them, which in turn could delay the entry of new broadband wireless services.
The department of telecommunications (DoT) this week instructed all institutional users of frequency and other stakeholders to submit recommendations on the changes to be made in the frequency allocation policy of the government by the month-end. Frequencies for services such as mobile phone, point-to-point wireless links, and satellite and terrestrial broadcast are allocated by the Wireless Planning and Coordination wing of the government under the National Frequency Allocation Plan or NFAP. The plan, meant to be updated every two years, has been unchanged since 2002.
While previous discussions on the NFAP have been the source of controversy over the conflicting demands of wireless voice operators using GSM and CDMA mobile phone technologies, this time the fight is brewing between those who want to start wireless broadband services for consumers and those using satellite to deliver television and communication services now. (GSM stands for global system for mobile communications and CDMA is short for code division multiple access, both mobile phone standards.)
Proponents of technologies such as Wimax have zeroed in on some frequencies currently used by satellite users, but the latter group feels that giving up even a part of it may cause interference in their operations. Wimax, short for worldwide inter-operability for microwave access, is a standard that is capable of data speeds of 10 megabits per second (mbps) up to 2km away from a radio transmitter. In comparison, third generation (3G) cellular networks promise data throughput of 2mbps and today’s data-friendly cellular networks deliver speeds of up to 512 kilobits per second.
Wireless broadband services operate in one of the three frequency bands—the 2.3, 2.5 or 3.3-3.6 Giga Hertz (GHz) band. However, in India, none of these bands are vacant, with the first being used by state electricity boards, state-owned power and oil companies, Indian Railways and security agencies, and the latter two by satellite operators.
In September, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, too, had identified the last band (3.3-3.6 GHz) as its first choice for wireless broadband. Since then, both the department of space, which rents out transponders on its satellites to broadcasters and uses satellites to conduct research programmes, and users of satellite capacity, have voiced their opposition to vacating the spectrum. The latest move by the government to find space for broadband wireless has also come up against this issue.
“We have already given our stand on the issue and there is no change in it,” says Bhaskar Narayanan, the Bangalore-based director for frequency management at the Indian Space Research Organization. “It has been proved in other countries that deploying a mass use technology such as broadband wireless so close to the main satellite band will disrupt satellite communications and make them useless.”
Quoting examples of countries such as Malaysia, Narayanan says the existing satellite recievers pick up even faint signals in the band and allocating the lower portion of the most-used ‘C-band’ (which stretches from 3.4 to 4.2GHz) to a mass deployment service will cause interference.
The department of space’s position has caught would-be wireless broadband service providers Reliance Communication Ltd (RCom), Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd and Sify Ltd in a bind. Having already launched services in the 3.3-3.4GHz band, the operators’ ability to scale up will depend on the immediate availability of more spectrum.
“We have to find a place for emerging technologies as well and our position is that one of the three bands have to be identified and allocated to the sector immediately,” said S.C. Khanna, secretary general of Association of Unified Service Providers of India, a trade body that represents RCom and Tata Teleservices Ltd, among others.