Overview of Frequency Spectrum Management


(RJS Kushvaha, Joint Wireless Adviser to the Government of India)

R.F. Spectrum:

Radio frequency spectrum is a limited natural resource. It is part of the electromagnetic spectrum, usually up to about 3000 GHz. With present technology, it is not yet practical to use spectrum above 100 GHz. Radio waves are governed by laws of physics and travel with the speed of light. Radio waves cannot be confined to national boundaries or specific areas and are susceptible to harmful interference. Propagation of radio waves has different characteristics in different frequency bands and is influenced by different phenomenon, including inter-alia, cosmic noise, manmade radio noise, geographical terrain and climatic conditions. Like any other natural resource, it cannot be owned but can only be shared amongst various countries, services, users, technologies etc.

The usage of RF Spectrum can be optimised by technological means, taking into account natural phenomenon of its capabilities and its constraints. The spectrum is used and not consumed and it is wasted if not used or not optimally and efficiently used. Optimal and efficient use of the spectrum is achieved by, among others, extensive frequency sharing with antenna directivity, geographical spacing, time sharing, etc. Use of Spectrum can also be optimised by employing better technologies, including Spectrum efficient modulation techniques. With a view to catering for the gigantic demand on the spectrum, the world over, it is essential that they spectrum be used efficiently, economically, rationally and optimally.

The limitation of RF Spectrum is on account of availability of equipment, technology, propagation and operational constraints, suitability of different frequencies for specific applications, etc. Yet another factor, which is causing complexity in Spectrum management and frequency assignments process, is the deployment of equipment procured from different sources/countries in the certain frequency bands where new systems/technologies are being developed, thereby requiring dislocation of existing systems from the band. It is pertinent to mention that the technologies and equipment being developed taking into account the Spectrum availability in those countries and not as per our situation.

Regulation of radio is the mechanism, entirely different from regulation of other activities of the term ‘regulation’ in general parlance. It is predominantly governed by the specific features and physical laws of nature. It is the use of spectrum, which can be regulated so as to multiply and optimize its usage by technological means, taking into account natural phenomenon of its capabilities and its constraints.

An evaluation of the interference potentiality to and from a new station is an integral part of Spectrum management and radio regulatory mechanism requiring an in-depth analysis of technical characteristics of the station and its environment. More are the number of stations, more is the pollution of electromagnetic environment; more are the types of services and applications, more are the complexities of coexistence; more are the diverse technologies, more are the problems of regulation. Situation is somewhat analogous to road traffic. More is the number and variety of vehicles on the road, more is the chaos and the need and complexity of regulation.

Spectrum Management Process:

management of spectrum is the combination of administrative and technical procedures with legal connotations necessary to ensure efficient operation of radio communication services without causing harmful interference. Efficient and effective Spectrum management, therefore, needs to be the garden signs of carefully planning spectrum allocation in a co-ordinated manner without compromising national interests and efficiently assigning frequencies for the benefit of users at large with minimum scope of harmful interference.

There are forty different kinds of radiocommunication services, including safety services like aeronautical, maritime, radionavigation, radiolocation, radioastronomy, meteorological, broadcasting, satellite broadcasting, fixed, fixed-satellite, mobile, mobile-satellite, space services, etc. In accordance with international treaties, all the frequency bands are shared amongst different types of radio communication services for variety of applications and technologies by different countries. The basic tools of radio frequency sharing require application of principles of time sharing, technical sharing and geographical sharing. No user can work in isolation, no service can work in isolation and no country can work in isolation. It is a collective Spectrum management exercise and radio regulatory mechanism which alone can ensure the interference free operation of various networks. It is the individual frequency, which is assigned to a user or a service provider and not a frequency band. No wireless user or service provider, be it a government of private, has ownership claim on any part of the frequency band, only frequency assignments are made in a particular frequency band, as per national and international plans and regulations, for operation of radio networks owned by an agency.

National and international coordination, sharing, coexistence and protection are key elements of Spectrum management process. National and international aspects of radio regulatory process are completely interlinked. Radio regulatory process has multifarious activities, which include, among others, interaction with International Telecommunication Union (ITU), with administrations of other countries, national and international frequency planning and coordination, formulation of legislation, tools and regulations, implementation of national and international rules, formulation of channeling plans, etc.

Electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) is consensus solution for efficient and economically utilisation of radio frequency spectrum. Society’s increasing use of radio based technologies for various telecommunication applications, and the tremendous opportunities provided by these technologies for socio-economic development, highlight importance of the electromagnetic compatibility among various radiocommunication systems. Advances in technology have made it practicable to implement new sharing schemes that offer possibilities for increasing the efficiency of Spectrum sharing and frequency utilisation.

Spectrum Planning:

International Radio Regulations, which contained, inter-alia, international Table of Frequency Allocations and radioregulatory processes, as well as other treaty instruments are adopted under the aegis of International Telecommunication Union (ITU) through world radiocommunication conferences. Within the framework of the ITU Constitution, the Asia-Pacific Telecommunication (APT) deals with these issues at the regional level and provides forum to prepare for world radiocommunication conferences of the ITU. National preparations are undertaken to formulate the national proposals and positions in consultation with all concerned ministries/departments of government as well as different agencies in private sector for such conferences and meetings.

Based on these international treaties, national frequency allocation plans are evolved taking into account natural requirements and priorities. Formulation of National Plans is one of the key elements of Spectrum planning. Accordingly, the National Frequency Allocation Plan -- 2002 (NFAP -- 2002) has been evolved in line with the Radio Regulations of the ITU with a view to catering for conflicting demands of spectrum, including those of new emerging technologies without unduly constraining the existing usages. The NFAP -- 2002, effective from 1 Jan 2002, has been formulated with full participation from government and private sectors taking into account Spectrum requirement of all users in a very transparent manner. The NFAP -- 2002 has been made a public document, which forms the basis for development, manufacturing and Spectrum utilisation activities in the country. It has also been notified on the website www.dotindia.com to facilitate access by all concerned. The India Remarks, besides other details, have been incorporated in the NFAP -- 2002 to earmark certain frequency bands for the specific usage in the country.

Frequency Assignment Process:

The international Radio Regulations of the ITU define the assignment of a radio frequency of radio frequency channel as authorisation given by an administration for a radio station to use a radio frequency or radio frequency channels under specified conditions. Frequency assignment process, therefore, involves examination of requirements for spectrum from national as well as international radio regulatory procedures.

Whenever a person wishes to establish and operate a wireless station, application is required to be made in appropriate pro forma with associated technical details. The application, as and when received, is processed and examined with respect to government policies and guidelines in consultation with concerned Ministries and Departments. Further, the assignment of frequency and effective utilisation of the same is being ensured in an objective, transparent and non-discriminatory manner ensuring no objection from concerned administrative Ministries, as appropriate, wherever, policies issues are in their respective domain. Application are also processed for technical examination/evaluation in accordance with international Radio Regulations and national regulations as well as coordination with other wireless networks, nationally and internationally, as the case maybe, for establishing electromagnetic compatibility and for assessing availability of spectrum.

It may be borne in mind that same frequency is repeated several times within the country as well as by different countries depending on electromagnetic analysis for coexistence. Further, a particular frequency can be assigned to one user for one type of services and the same frequency can be assigned to another user for different type of services and for different type of application. Even the same frequency can be assigned to different type of services in the same area of operation if electromagnetic compatibility is established. Frequency assignment for one type of service has impact on other types of services in the same frequency band as well as in different frequency bands, based on technical parameters of different networks.

Frequencies with associated technical parameters are assigned to all wireless networks in the country to the Government as well as to the private sectors and licences for establishment and operation of wireless stations are granted under the Indian Telecom Act, 1885, exercising statutory functions of the Central government.

Emerging Complexities in the Spectrum Management:

Demands on spectrum are increasing manifold for variety of applications both by private and government sectors. Private sector participation in the field of telecommunications for basic service, cellular Mobile, radio trunking, radio paging, VSAT, etc as well as increase in number of players for providing these services with a view to having competition and consumer satisfaction has significantly increased the demand of the Spectrum. MTNL/BSNL, as public telecommunication service provider also has massive plans. Various other sectors like Police, electricity, transport, oil and natural gas and other utility services have also extensive plans for wireless networks and considerable requirements on spectrum.

Requirement of spectrum by Information Technology (IT) sector has increased manifold for variety of applications in view of Government’s initiative to promote the sector.

Broadcasting sector has been opened up for private sector for various applications resulting in complexities and enhanced demands on spectrum. TV uplinking and FM radio broadcasting by the private sector have been permitted. Besides these, the Prasar Bharti has also extensive plans for expansion.

Department of space has extensive plans for satellite based networks for variety of applications. Tremendous efforts are needed for coordination of orbital slots and Spectrum for the satellite networks.

Defence and other security agencies have tremendous demand on spectrum for variety of systems. Many other uses like oil sector, transport sector, public utility services, paramilitary agencies, etc also have requirements for variety of networks.

Many new technologies are emerging internationally and nationally. While there is a need to find ways and means to introduce new technologies and to meet gigantic demands of various users, existing networks cannot be shut down and need to be protected. Spectrum management process has, thus, become extremely complex and electromagnetic compatibility analysis highly involved.

Processes Involved in Licensing:

Examination of application with respect your national and international plans/regulations

Coordination with existing wireless users to ensure interference free operation

Siting clearance by SACFA.

Consultation with concerned Ministries/Departments

Payment of the Spectrum charges

Grant of license

SACFA Procedures:

The Standing Advisory Committee on Radio Frequency Allocations (SACFA) is a high-power Committee, which was established in 1966 in the Ministry of Communications. The SACFA is chaired by Secretary, Department of Telecommunications and its membership is open to all major wireless users, ministries, administrative departments of Government of India. WPC wing provides the Secretariat for smooth and effective functioning of the SACFA. SACFA members examine the cases from electromagnetic compatibility, line-of-sight obstruction and aviation hazard point of view. With a view to enhancing participation of the industry in the Spectrum management process, meetings of SACFA have also been opened up to the private sector, while considering agenda items of their interest. Broad functions of SACFA are given below:

To recommend on major frequency allocation issues requiring coordination amongst the various wireless users in the country;

To formulate/review the National Frequency Allocation Plans (NFAP);

To formulate national proposals for international conferences/meetings and to coordinate nationally all activities pertaining to the ITU, APT, etc;

To deal with frequency coordination problems referred to the Committee by the administrative Ministries/Departments;

To clear sites of all wireless installations in the country;

To finalise guidelines regarding provision of day and night obstruction markings on radio masts and towers;

To evolve technical criteria, equipment standards, channeling plans, developmental/manufacturing activities, introduction of new technologies etc;

To explore feasibility of sharing of an antenna mast by more than one wireless users;

To evolve/develop special site clearance procedures like procedure for clearance of radio masts of foreign missions/embassies for their radiocommunication links.