KOLKATA: The department of telecom is considering a demand by India's top three mobile phone companies -- Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular -- to allow GSM operators to bid for unsold CDMA spectrum in the 800 MHz band which saw no takers in the recent auction.
If this happens, the government as a first step will realign the existing block of 800 MHz spectrum -- now earmarked for CDMA operators -- and make it part of the international 900 MHz band used by GSM carriers worldwide, signalling a decisive shift in India's spectrum harmonisation policy.

The impact of this on the Indian telecom sector is going to be huge and India's GSM operators would be on Cloud Nine. Harmonisation of the 800 MHz (locally known as CDMA band) with the international 900 MHz band would give India's GSM carriers access to higher frequencies in the 800 band (880-890 MHz) which have better reach and are ideal for sprucing up 2G, 3G coverage at lower costs and launching HSPA+ mobile broadband services. For CDMA operators like Reliance Communications and Tata Teleservices, among others, who have invested billions in rolling out networks in the 800 MHz band, it would be a body blow of sorts since their GSM rivals would have a chance to cherry-pick a large chunk of their airwaves.

Telecom experts believe harmonising the 800 MHz with the international 900 MHz band, widely known as the Extended GSM (EGSM), will be good for technology providers, handset makers and mobile operators in India who can pass on the benefits to consumers.

Since spectrum harmonisation is about designating frequency bands for the same use in multiple countries, it is expected to drive down network equipment costs by creating massive economies of scale for equipment makers, widen the availability of handsets and lower call charges in India.

Executives at Samsung and Nokia claim that countries with a harmonised spectrum roadmap also make it easier for global handset makers to bring in a broader range of products to market, in turn, offering more choice and value to the consumers. Besides, a mobile phone capable of running on multiple spectrum bands will have higher utility, because of easier inter-operability and more global roaming options.

Though India's spectrum allocations are harmonised with much of Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pacific markets, the 900 MHz band allocated to GSM carriers in India is smaller than the EGSM band available overseas.

Globally, the 900 MHz band extends across the 880-915 MHz for uplink and 925-960 MHz for downlink, and is popularly known as the EGSM band. But in India, where GSM and CDMA platforms co-exist, the 900 MHz band is truncated and called 'primary GSM' since the higher frequencies of the 800 MHz band (880-890 MHz) are allocated to CDMA operators.