Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc



From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : 5G technology

Mains level : 5G Rollout and related issues

The much-awaited auction for telecom spectrum, including for 5G airwaves, will begin tomorrow.

Spectrums for auctions

  • A total of 72,097.85 MHz (or 72 Ghz) of spectrum with a validity period of 20 years will be put on the block.
  • Airwaves across low (600 MHz, 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300 MHz), mid (3300 MHz) and high (26 GHz) frequency bands, valued at ₹4,316 billion ($56 billion) at least, will be put up for bidding.

What is (Electromagnetic) Spectrum?

  • Devices such as cellphones and wireline telephones require signals to connect from one end to another.
  • These signals are carried on airwaves, which must be sent at designated frequencies to avoid any kind of interference.
  • The Union government owns all the publicly available assets within the geographical boundaries of the country, which also include airwaves.
  • With the expansion in the number of cellphones, wireline telephone and internet users, the need to provide more space for the signals arise from time to time.

Spectrum allocations

  • Spectrum refers to the invisible radio frequencies that wireless signals travel over. The frequencies we use for wireless are only a portion of what is called the electromagnetic spectrum.
  • To sell these assets to companies willing to set up the required infrastructure to transport these waves from one end to another, the central government through the DoT auctions these airwaves from time to time.
  • These airwaves called spectrum is subdivided into bands which have varying frequencies.
  • All these airwaves are sold for a certain period of time, after which their validity lapses, which is generally set at 20 years.

What is 5G technology?

  • 5G or fifth generation is the latest upgrade in the long-term evolution (LTE) mobile broadband networks.
  • It mainly works in 3 bands, namely low, mid and high-frequency spectrum — all of which have their own uses as well as limitations.

Three bands of 5G

(1) Low band spectrum

  • It has shown great promise in terms of coverage and speed of internet and data exchange, the maximum speed is limited to 100 Mbps (Megabits per second).
  • This means that while telcos can use and install it for commercial cellphones users who may not have specific demands for very high-speed internet, the low band spectrum may not be optimal for the specialized needs of the industry.

(2) Mid-band spectrum

  • It offers higher speeds compared to the low band but has limitations in terms of coverage area and penetration of signals.
  • Telcos and companies, which have taken the lead on 5G, have indicated that this band may be used by industries and specialized factory units for building captive networks that can be molded into the needs of that particular industry.

(3) High-band spectrum

  • It offers the highest speed of all the three bands, but has extremely limited coverage and signal penetration strength.
  • Internet speeds in the high-band spectrum of 5G have been tested to be as high as 20 Gbps (gigabits per second), while, in most cases, the maximum internet data speed in 4G has been recorded at 1 Gbps.

Where does India stand in the 5G technology race?

  • On par with the global players, India had, in 2018, planned to start 5G services as soon as possible, with an aim to capitalize on the better network speeds and strength that the technology promised.
  • Indian private telecom players have been urging the DoT to lay out a clear road map of spectrum allocation and 5G frequency bands so that they would be able to plan the rollout of their services accordingly.
  • One big hurdle, however, is the lack of flow of cash and adequate capital with some companies due to their AGR dues.

Global progress on 5G

  • More than governments, global telecom companies have started building 5G networks and rolling it out to their customers on a trial basis.
  • In countries like the US, some companies have taken the lead when it comes to rolling out commercial 5G for their users.
  • A South Korean company, which had started researching on 5G technology way back in 2011, has, on the other hand, take the lead when it comes to building the hardware for 5G networks for several companies.


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