Citing strategic purposes, DoS had blocked a move to auction some of the spectrum

With the deal between the Indian Space Research Organisation and Devas Multimedia coming under adverse light, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is building its case to press the Department of Space (DoS) to vacate S-band spectrum for mobile services.

The DoT and DoS have been at loggerheads over the S-band since 2009 when the DoT wanted to auction some spectrum in this band for broadband services. But DoS had blocked the move on the grounds that it required the spectrum for strategic purposes. The DoT had also set up a committee to determine the spectrum charges for satellite services.

“If DoS wants to use the S-band for commercial broadband services, in partnership with a private company, then it might as well make the spectrum available for all commercial telecom operators,” said a senior DoT official.

The DoS controls 190 Mhz of spectrum in the S-band, of which 80MHz is earmarked for Broadcast Satellite Service (BSS), and the remaining 70MHz is earmarked for Mobile Satellite Service (MSS). It is this 70 Mhz which would have gone to Devas as part of an agreement with ISRO to lease out transponders.

In May 2010, the telecom regulator recommended that the spectrum being used by government agencies, including DoS, be reviewed and re-farmed so that enough air waves are made available for commercial telecommunications services. The DoS, on the other hand, is not in favour of spectrum being re-farmed as their equipment functions at a specific frequency and any relocation would mean additional investments.

Rajan Mathews, Director-General, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), said the S-band was valuable for mobile operators because of the volume of spectrum that was available on it. “Most of the bands which are currently under use for mobile services are almost running full capacity. The government needs to find newer bands for sustaining the growth in mobile services and S-band has a lot of space on it,” he said.

“Globally, this band is used for offering 4G technologies, including WiMax. Satellite services should be done on the Ku-band or above the 3.5 Ghz where there is plenty of bandwidth for them,” said C.S. Rao, chairman, WiMax Forum India.

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