Use of radio frequency bands of the electromagnetic spectrum is regulated by governments in most countries, in a Spectrum management process known as frequency allocation or spectrum allocation. Radio propagation does not stop at national boundaries which is why governments have sought to harmonise the allocation of RF bands and their standardization.
A number of bodies work on standards for frequency allocation, including:
- International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
- European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT)
- Inter-American Telecommunication Commission (CITEL)
Radio frequency bands are divided into 3 broad categories:
- Frequencies that are not usable for commercial purposes and are kept reserved for radio astronomy and Defence forces.
- Frequencies that are unlicensed and are open for personal or commercial use for free which includes 2.4GHz and 5GHz WiFi, Bluetooth, cordless phones, etc.
- Frequencies that are licenced by the government for purposes like telecommunication.
The frequency bands used for telecommunication worldwide follow an international convention where the ITU has identified 3 distinct ‘International telecommunication regions’ and each region has its own distinct set of frequency bands that it uses for telecom.
Region 1: Europe, Middle East, Africa, the former Soviet Union, including Siberia; and Mongolia
Region 2: North and South America and Pacific (East of the International Date Line)
Region 3: Asia, Australia and the Pacific Rim (West of the International Date Line)
In the early days the number of GSM bands were limited to just 3. This comprised 900 and 1800 MHz in Europe/Asia/Africa and 1900 MHz in the USA. The cross-Atlantic GSM roaming breakthrough came with the Motorola Timeport in 1999 – the world’s first tri-band GSM mobile. Within a few years tri-band capability was being built into every GSM mobile. We have come to accept and value this universal connectivity. India has currently deployed operations or has future plans to deploy telecom operations in a total of 8 radio frequency bands as of now. Ahead is a brief description of each of these bands and their current and future use.
This is a paired frequency band. The downlink frequency of this band lies in the 2100MHz region while the uplink frequency lies in the 1900MHz region. The total bandwidth is 60MHz X 2 of which 40MHz X 2 has been earmarked for Telecom operations while 20 MHz X 2 has been earmarked for defence. This band is currently being used in India by Airtel, Vodafone, Idea, Reliance, Tata, Aircel, MTNL, BSNL for 3G services (HSPA) also Idea cellular plans to deploy FD-LTE on this band in the future.
This is a paired frequency band. The downlink frequency of this band lies in the 1800MHz region while the uplink frequency lies in the 1700MHz region. The total bandwidth is 75MHz X 2 of which 55MHz X 2 has been earmarked for Telecom operations while 20MHz X 2 has been earmarked for Defence. This band is currently being used in India by by all operators especially newer ones like Rcom, Tata and Aircel to offer 2G voice and data services. Also Incumbents like Airtel, Vodafone and Idea and new comer Jio have launched 4G FD-LTE on this band in select cities.
This is a paired frequency band which is commonly referred to as the 850MHz band. The total bandwidth is 20MHz X 2 of which 17.5MHz X 2 has been earmarked for telecom operations while the remaining is used as inter operator guard bands. Additionally in the three circles of Assam, Jammu&Kashmir and North East the government is considering allotment of 5MHz X 2 to Defence, which brings down the amount available for telecom operations to 12.5MHz X 2 in these circles. This band has traditionally been used for CDMA and EVDO services in India by operators like Rcom, Tata, MTS and BSNL. This band has now been refarmed and auctioned and Reliance Jio now holds technology neutral liberalised spectrum in this band Pan India, which it plans to use for FD-LTE deployment through a spectrum sharing deal for the same with Rcom.
This is a paired frequency band. The downlink frequency of this band lies in the 2600MHz region while the uplink frequency lies in the 2500MHz region. The total bandwidth is 70MHz X 2. This band was exclusively allotted to BSNL in the 3 circles of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. BSNL has surrendered all its spectrum holding in this band to the government for a refund. This band is currently not being used by any operator in India.
This is a paired frequency band. The downlink frequency of this band lies in the 900MHz region and the uplink frequency lies in the higher 850MHz region. The total bandwidth is 25MHz X 2 of which 22.2MHz X 2 has been earmarked for telecommunication while 1.6MHz X 2 has been earmarked for Indian railway and 1.2MHz X 2 has been earmarked for defence. This band is currently being used by Incumbent operators Airtel, Vodafone, Idea for 2G voice and Data services. Airtel and Idea have even launched or plan on launching 3G (HSPA) services on this band in the metro circles where they own liberalised spectrum through auction.
This is a paired frequency band. The downlink frequency of this band lies in the upper 700MHz region and uplink frequency lies in the lower 700MHz region. The total bandwidth is 45MHz X 2 of which 35MHz X 2 has been earmarked for telecommunication while 10MHz X 2 has been earmarked for defence. This band is proposed for FD-LTE deployment in India by the year 2018. The spectrum in this band has been freed for telecom use in Metro cities and urban areas under phase 1, 2 and 3 of digitisation of cable TV, the spectrum in this band in semi urban and rural regions is still in use for terrestrial cable broadcasting and will be freed after the completion of phase 4 of digitisation by the end of 2016.
This is an unpaired frequency band. Both the uplink and downlink portions of this band are located in the same chunk of 2300MHz radio frequency. The total bandwidth is 100MHz of which 80MHz is earmarked for telecommunication while 20MHz is earmarked for defence. Spectrum in this band is held by operators like Reliance Jio, Airtel, Idea and Tikona. Airtel has already launched TD-LTE on this band in major cities. Reliance Jio has a Pan India TD-LTE footprint on this band.
This is an unpaired frequency band. Both uplink and downlink portions of this band are located in the same chunk of 2500MHz and 2600MHz radio frequency. The total bandwidth is 194MHz of which only 40MHz is earmarked for telecommunication while 154MHz is allocated to Department of space (DoS) for satellite services. Spectrum in this band is held by Vodafone, Idea and state owned BSNL. Vodafone and Idea are using this band to add capacity to their existing band 3 LTE networks to compete with Airtel and Jio which have large amount of similar spectrum in band 40.
|Band number||Type||Uplink frequency (MHz)||Downlink frequency (MHz)||Bandwidth for telecom (MHz)|
|1||Paired||1939-1979||2129-2169||40 X 2|
|3||Paired||1710-1765||1805-1860||55 X 2|
|5||Paired||824-844||869-889||17.5 X 2|
|8||Paired||890-915||935-960||22.2 X 2|
|28||Paired||713-748||768-803||35 X 2|
For a similar description on DTH satellites, check out our Handy guide to satellites used for broadcasting DTH signals in India.
Frequently asked questions:
Q1. What is the difference between paired and unpaired frequency bands?
Ans. Paired frequency bands have uplink and downlink portions on physically separate frequency bands, which is why LTE deployed on paired frequency band is called Frequency division duplexing FDD while unpaired frequency bands have both uplink and downlink portions on the same chunk of spectrum and are separated only by time of uplinking and downlinking, which is why LTE deployed on unpaired frequency band is called Time division duplexing TDD. Bands 1 through 32 are paired while bands 33 to 44 are unpaired. Newer bands are defined and numbered by the ITU from time to time.
Q2. What is the difference between liberalised and non liberalised spectrum?
Ans. Prior to 2012, spectrum was linked to a telecom license, operators who applied for license in a circle were granted a fixed amount of startup spectrum, 4.4 MHz for GSM and 2.5 MHz for CDMA services. This spectrum being linked to the license was non liberalised and could only be used to provide those services and not for newer technologies like 3G HSPA and 4G LTE. From the year 2012 DOT delinked spectrum from license and urged telecom operators to move to the Unified license regime by paying a one time fee to the government which would permit them to offer all voice and data services across all circles using any technology platform. The spectrum auctioned since 2012 is thus liberalised and can be used for any technology including 2G GSM CDMA/3G HSPA EvDO/4G FD-LTE TD-LTE.
Q3. What is carrier aggregation in terms of LTE-A and how does it affect the data speeds of the network?
Ans. When operators bid for spectrum in the auction and win some, the government allocates the spectrum in chunks or blocks of fixed size to the operators. While the DOT takes every effort to ensure that all spectrum allocated to an operator within a band is contiguous (All spectrum blocks adjacent to each other in a continuous manner), sometimes this is not feasible due to some reason, also operators tend to pick spectrum across many different frequency bands. Carrier aggregation is the technology platform which combines this fragmented spectrum holding of an operator across bands to virtually make larger chunks of spectrum which adds to the overall data carrying capacity. Carrier aggregation for LTE-A can be intra band like B40-B40 or inter band like B3-B5.
We hope this article has been useful in clearing all your doubts regarding spectrum band allocations in India. If you still have any queries kindly post them in the comments section below and we will do our best to resolve them. Keep reading TT for the latest news in the Indian telecom Industry.
Esmail is our very own in-house spectrum specialist. He is passionate about Telecom, DTH and OTT video streaming apps. When not writing an article, you can find him binge watching shows on Netflix while sipping on a cup of coffee.