Fresh spectrum allocation plan in the works, may open up more bands

May provide clear direction on satellite spectrum

Telecom tower

Telecom tower

Subhayan Chakraborty New Delhi

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With the draft telecom Bill still up in the air, the government is working on an updated version of the National Frequency Allocation Plan (NFAP), sources said.

The NFAP is a central policy that defines the road map for future spectrum usage by all national authorities, including the telecom and space departments and information and broadcasting and defence ministries.

It provides a broad regulatory framework, identifying which frequency bands are available for cellular mobile service, Wi-Fi, sound and television broadcasting, radionavigation for aircraft and ships, defence and security communications, disaster relief and emergency communications, and satellite broadcasting, among others.

A frequency band is how wireless data is transmitted between devices through radio waves that transfer the data.

The NFAP was updated in October 2022. Officials hinted the updated NFAP may provide a clearer picture on whether satellite spectrum should be allocated administratively or auctioned, which has remained one of the most contentious issues in the draft telecom Bill.

After consistent demand from telecom companies, new spectrum bands such as 26 GHz (gigahertz) that have been identified by the International Telecom Union (ITU) for 5G deployment were identified in NFAP 2022. Similarly, the updated NFAP may also open up newer spectrums for the next round of 5G auction and deployment that is set to be held in the current financial year, sources said. 

The government is working on identifying new bands to be included in that round, and a consultation on the same by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) is expected soon. 

For last year’s mega auction in July where all registered telecom firms acquired 5G spectrum, Trai had earlier earmarked spectrum in the 3,300-3,600 MHz bands, or mid-band spectrum. But with 26 GHz being regarded as the most efficient for 5G services given its utility for captive networks, it had been the main attraction. 

As much as 72 per cent of the spectrum on offer in this band received bids, and officials have hinted that other parts of the band may be opened up in the next round as both Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel continuously expand their 5G network. 

Overall, about 72,098 MHz of spectrum was offered for auction, of which 51,236 MHz was sold last year. 

The NFAP 2022 provided nearly 17 GHz of new additional spectrum for implementing 5G in all three segments of radio spectrum, or those below 1 GHz, between 1-6 GHz, and above 6 GHz. Adopting the global developments in aeronautical and maritime radiocommunication services, it also brought in updated provisions in line with International Telecommunication Union's Radio Regulations 2020. 

It also listed the licence-exempted frequency ranges that support short-range communications using the latest technologies such as machine-to-machine communications, Internet of Things, and inductive applications. Officials said the updated NFAP may work more to promote innovation and research in the fields of radio astronomy and deep space communications.

First Published: Sep 26 2023 | 6:22 PM IST

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