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Spectrum Roadmap

Radio spectrum is a scarce national resource, and spectrum policy is key to enable cost effective and quality wireless services. Due to the criticality of 5G networks for India, a supportive spectrum policy is important. 

India’s quantum of spectrum allocation needs a big fillip. For example, total licensed mobile spectrum is about 220 MHz as compared to 608 MHz in USA and 353 MHz in UK. Further, the cost of spectrum, relative to per capita GDP, is much higher than most countries. Both these factors drive up infrastructure costs. Also, in recent years, the high cost of spectrum has left large quantities of unsold spectrum. It is important that India correct these anomalies in 5G.

Another factor is spectral efficiency. This refers to data throughput delivered per unit of Hz of bandwidth. This is largely determined by the underlying 5G technology. However, wise spectrum allocation and high spectrum reuse in deployment also impacts spectral efficiency. 

5G standards envisage services in different bands that range from below 1 GHz to 70 GHz. Each band has it unique advantages and disadvantages like available bandwidth and propagation characteristics, but together the collection of 5G bands should enable efficient delivery of 5G services. 

It is important to take into cognizance the recommendations of international regulatory and standards bodies, availability of spectrum in the country, co-existence with other domestic services and the need to align India with the global market place to benefit from product eco-systems and support ease of international roaming. 

The release of 5G spectrum may be done in three tiers of certitude. 

  • Announce Tier – here certain bands are declared as being made available for 5G rollout, providing certainty to the eco-system
  • Identify Tier – here bands are designated for potential 5G use which can be moved to the Announce Tier after coordination with other domestic users. 
  • Study Tier – here bands are designated for exploratory studies for 5G use. These bands should be considered as only of potential availability for 5G networks. 

Important way forward on 5G spectrum allocations are as follows:- 

Radio Access Spectrum 

The recommendations for radio access fall into three broad categories. 

  1. Below 1 GHz category where spectrum is limited, but has favourable radio coverage, making this band suitable for mMTC type services as well as high mobility eMBB broadband services. 
  2. The 1 to 6 GHz category that has wider spectrum availability but reduced coverage, makes these bands suitable for eMBB and uRLLC type services. 
  3. The millimetric Bands in the 24 to 41 GHz block that has plenty of spectrum but has limited coverage, making it most suitable for low mobility and Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) services. 

These allocations will be under regular licensed regime except for one band for shared use. The recommendations at each tier are 

  • Announce Tier: 698-803 MHz, 3300-3600 MHz, 24.25-27.5 GHz, and 27.5 – 29.5 GHz. Of these, the two mm Bands should be opened free for two years to support rollout trials and indigenous R&D. 
  • Identify Tier: 617-698 MHz, 1427-1518 MHz, 29.5 to 31.3 GHz and 37.0 to 43.5 GHz. The 37.0 to 43.5 GHz bands should be opened free for two years to support indigenous R&D. 
  • Study Tier: 3600-3700 MHz. This is a becoming a shared band internationally and will require significant real time co-ordination technology to support sharing. This band should be released after this spectrum sharing technology is available.


Radio Backhaul Spectrum 

Radio backhauls connect base stations to core backend networks which in turn connect to the internet cloud. In 5G, due to use of small cells, the base station density can reach 100 to 200 per Sq. Km. thus increasing back haul density. Since 5G supports high data rates, backhaul must support between 2 to 20 Gbps link speeds. High density backhaul makes fibre-based solutions unviable and instead, favours wireless technologies like Millimetric Band Distribution Networks. This will need wideband spectrum. 

The band 57-71 GHz may be released as unlicensed spectrum for use in back haul and access links and further recommends the release the 71-76 GHz and 81-86 GHz under a light touch licensing regime. 

There is a necessity to build spectrum management skills and infrastructure in India to deal with growing complexity of spectrum use in India. The country has so far relied on studies from international bodies which do not always reflect India’s needs and constraints. There is a need to complement Government’s efforts to reduce delays in spectrum release and inadequate spectrum management. There is a need to set up a Standing Committee with a 5-year-term to advise the Government on building up India’s Spectrum technology capability (spectrum management, coexistence studies and dynamic spectrum sharing, etc.) and bring it up to international standards. This will also enable India to be an effective contributor to spectrum studies and policy ITU and APT. 

The government may enhance spectrum availability in coordination with relevant ministries and ensure earliest possible allocations of 5G spectrum, increased quantum of spectrum availability, and to lower spectrum pricing

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