Ever since 3G auctions earned a whopping 67,710 crore for the government exchequer, there has been a conscious effort to unlock more and more of the spectrum value. This is echoed in the recommendations on Auction of Spectrum by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).
“Spectrum has been internationally accepted as a scarce, finite and renewable natural resource which is susceptible to degradation in case of inefficient utilization. It has a high economic value in the light of the demand for it on account of the tremendous growth in the telecom sector,” the paper notes.
It is ironic that while various government bodies as well as the telecom industry recognize the scarceness of the spectrum, particularly in the usable frequencies of 700MHz through 2,300 MHz, there has been little collective consciousness towards developing plans that could deliver long-term spectral efficiencies.
Allocating fixed frequency blocks to various operators hasn’t shown to be a great way of optimizing spectrum usage. Very often, it leads to an overload on one block and underutilization of another block.
Instead, consider a scenario where a common pool of frequencies could be created, to cater to spectrum needs of various operators and their subscribers. Call that spectrum virtualization, maybe. To be able to draw from this pool, all an operator would need is a license in a given service area. (TRAI has already recommended delinking of the spectrum and service licenses.)
A step forward would be to bring in operator-neutral entities to manage and allocate spectrum, on a dynamic basis. Highly specialized companies can come up as a new category of “spectrum service providers.” Another alternative would be to have consortiums, formed by various mobile operators as members.
Such arrangements would also bring in a required degree of spectrum neutrality into play, where new operators would be on a more level playing field with the incumbents. Operators would then also be able to focus on subscriber acquisition and would compete with other operators on parameters like quality of service.
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