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All you want to know about 3G spectrum
Rediff Business Desk
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December 12, 2007

The policy making regime for making spectrum available should be fair, transparent, equitable and forward looking, said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on December 12. The government would also start allocating spectrum to new players, said additional solicitor general in Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal.

Allocation of spectrum to new players will provide a further impetus for growth of the mobile phone industry in India.

Users demand better and faster services, and as they start using high-end phones, they want more information, faster data access and multimedia services through their mobile phones. Only 3G technology provides this. So what is 3G spectrum all about? Read on.

Here are a FAQs on 3G spectrum.

1. What is spectrum?

Spectrum refers to a range of radio frequencies. The bandwidth of a radio signal is the difference between the upper and lower frequencies of the signal.

For example, in the case of a voice signal having a minimum frequency of 200 hertz (Hz) and a maximum frequency of 3,000 Hz, the bandwidth is 2,800 Hz (3 KHz). The amount of bandwidth needed for 3G services could be as much as 15-20 Mhz, whereas for 2G services a bandwidth of 30-200 KHz is used. Hence huge bandwidth is required for 3G.

2. What exactly do 3G spectrums do?

Third Generation or 3G is a generic term used for the next generation of mobile communication systems.

With 3G spectrums, your mobile can work for you even while you sleep. It sets your travel schedule and checks for jams along your route, whether you take the car/bus or the train. It can double up as cash and plastic money, a one-instrument payment system to pay for your tickets and purchases by simply texting the bank.

It can be your one-stop entertainment box that holds music files, downloads programmes you love while you're on the move.

It can work out what to do with incoming phone calls and messages -- direct voice calls to voicemail when you are in a meeting, for instance, but providing a discreet text summary of the caller and the nature of the call.

3. In which country was 3G spectrum first introduced?

Japan was the first country to introduce 3G on a large commercial scale. In 2005, about 40 per cent of subscribers used only 3G networks. It is expected that during 2006 the subscribers would move from 2G to 3G and upgrade to the next 3.5 G level.

The success of 3G in Japan also shows that video telephony was the killer application for 3G networks. Downloading music was the biggest draw in 3G services.

4. How do 3G services help us economically?

3G services enable video broadcast and data-intensive services such as stock transactions, e-learning and telemedicine through wireless communications

With 3G, telecom operators want to cash in on revenues by providing high-end services to customers, which are voice data and video-enabled.

5. Which companies got 3G license in India?

3G spectrum has been provided to GSM players like Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam [Get Quote] Limited, Bharti Airtel [Get Quote] and Vodafone Essar (then Hutch) to carry out an interface check on a non-commercial basis ahead of the start of 3G mobile services.

Corporate giant Tatas recently asked the government to seek surrender of excess spectrum lying with GSM operators, a line being aggressively pursued by Reliance Communications [Get Quote] chief Anil Ambani.

With this, the top two CDMA players have joined forces against GSM operators like Bharti and Vodafone to seek return of spectrum beyond the contractual amount of 6.2 Mhz.

Apart from PSU majors, spectrum for carrying out 3G trials has been given to all those who have applied under the National Frequency Allocation Plan on the 2.1 GHz band. GSM players operate on 900 MHz and 1,800 MHz, while CDMA players operate on 800 MHz.

6. How much spectrum has been granted to mobile companies?

Under the licence agreement with the department of telecommunication, GSM operators are entitled to spectrum up to 6.2 MHz while CDMA operators have been permitted spectrum up to 5 MHz.

However, a recent report states that three leading operators have excess spectrum beyond 6.2 MHz and there is no Cabinet approval for allocations beyond 6.2 Mhz.

The previous BJP-led government, says the report, gave it away without Cabinet approval. The matter has already been raised in Parliament and a CBI enquiry has been demanded. 

7. What led to spectrum imbroglio in India?

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, in its recommendations, had suggested an increase in the subscriber norms by two to six times. However, with GSM operators opposing the move, the issue was referred by the DoT to its standards setting organisation, the Telecom Engineering Centre.

The latter recommended hiking the minimum subscriber number even beyond what the Trai had suggested. Earlier formulae had suggested the subscriber number be a mid-point between what the Trai and TEC suggested or a 25 per cent 'tightening' of the existing policy.

8. How do mobile companies and government plan to end the spectrum row?

India's key mobile operators and the government are attempting a solution to the spectrum imbroglio, which includes accepting the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's recommendation on hiking the minimum subscriber base norms for additional allocation of spectrum.

In return, private GSM operators like Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Essar would not be asked to return the excess additional spectrum that they have received over the years beyond their contractual agreement under the licence (which is 6.2 MHz for GSM and 5 MHz for CDMA operators).

The operators are also willing to accept auction of second generation spectrum beyond what has been contracted. According to them, they are allowed to have spectrum up to 10 Mhz.

9. What are the issues regarding 3G for providers and users?

3G has successfully been introduced in Europe. But several issues continue to hamper its growth.

10. In how many countries does 3G exist?

There are about 60 3G networks across 25 countries. In Asia, Europe and the USA, telecom firms use Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA) technology. The WCDMA standard provides seamless global evolution from today's GSM with support of the worlds' largest mobile operators.

WCDMA technology is built on open standards, wide ranging mobile multimedia possibility, and vast potential economies of scale with the support of around 100 terminal designs to operate 3G mobile networks.

3G services were introduced in Europe in 2003.

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