Spectrum Management in India – Sharing, Trading and Harmonization


In 2016, the Government took the following initiatives for the efficient utilization of the ratio frequency spectrum in the country.

Spectrum Sharing

Spectrum sharing was allowed on April 21, 2016 between two telecom service providers. 21 cases of spectrum sharing exists between telecom service providers as on December 14, 2016. The Proposed spectrum sharing seek to address network efficiency concerns by allowing telcos to leverage non-linear gains in spectral efficiency. This can be better explained in the context of the chart reproduced below. If the operators holding 5 MHz of spectrum each were to share their spectrum, it is possible to minimize network congestion and carry greater amounts of traffic. While the two operators in this example can cumulatively carry 66.06 Erlangs of network traffic without sharing spectrum, implementing a sharing model would allow them to carry 136.08 Erlands, which is more than double the sum of their individual capacities.

The Department of Telecom approved spectrum sharing between Reliance Communications (RCOM) and Reliance Jio in nine circles. The nine circles are Mumbai, Uttar Pradesh (East), Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Assam and North East.

Spectrum Trading

Trading or selling of spectrum by one telecom service operator to another was initiated on May 17, 2016. Spectrum trading has been utilized 17 times by a number of telecom service providers as on December 14, 2016

  • Spectrum trading helps achieving efficient use of spectrum as follows:
  • Efficient usage if the spectrum by the entity which values it most.
  • It provides operators increased flexibility to accommodate shifting demand driven by market changes.
  • Removes entry barriers for new operators which results into healthy competition.
  • Given above benefits, it provides customers with grater choice.

Spectrum trading comes with certain benefits as discussed above, however the trading regime should ensure that spectrum holding do not become concentrated into few hands such that competition is restricted. The same can be ensured by having cap on spectrum holding by operators in LSAs (Licensed Service Areas)

Spectrum Harmonization

Harmonization of spectrum in 800 MHz and 1800 MHz bands was carried out from April to September, 2016 resulting in recovery of 197 MHz of additional spectrum for auction. Spectrum harmonization refers to uniform allocation of radio frequency bands across regions, especially in border areas, where the Defense holds the radio waves. Harmonization leads to usage of bands int contiguous blocks, leading to efficient utilization of spectrum.

Spectrum Auction in India

In India, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) conducts auctions of licenses for the electromagnetic spectrum. India was among the early adopters of spectrum auctions beginning auctions in 1994. Last auction was conducted in October, 2016 sold 965 MHz of spectrum. The auction fetched a total bid of INR 66,000 crore, and highest ever upfront payment of INR 33,000 crore since 2012.

In 2017, the government will auction 5G spectrum for the first time. Spectrum in bands over 3 GHz will be sold in the auction. Previously unsold spectrum in the bands of 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300 MHz, and 2500 MHz will also be auctioned.