A Spectrum Management Idea

During the course of last one week, I travelled as part of a team drawn from various Telecom units within our organization to engage with the leadership team from various non-telecom business verticals of the organization to define a cross-selling strategy that has recently been launched.

During the course of the discussions, I was struck by the similarity between privatized Railroad Services, Telecommunications and the Utility sector (Power, Water and Gas distribution to consumers). Expanding on the similarities, I came up with an idea that could help better spectrum management – if policy makers, equipment vendors and operators can implement the same.

Spectrum Holding Company

The first part of the idea is to form a central Spectrum holding company. This could be a Quasi-Government agency or a PSU. This company will hold all spectrum beyond a bare minimum “base spectrum” allocated to all mobile phone companies at a nominal price as per their operations licence.

The holding company will implement an IT system by which the pool of frequencies beyond the “base spectrum” is held in a database and will be allocated on demand at pre-determined or real-time prices to individual operators for durations in multiples of one hour.

At the end of the one-hour, the frequency will have to be surrendered by an explicit command from the operator, otherwise, the allocated spectrum would be considered to be continuing in use and would be billed for the duration of usage based on price set in the system.

This system of central administration would not be very different from the number spectrum management technique as implemented for Number Portability.

Demand for additional Spectrum

At the operator end, there is a need to implement an “early-warning” system for demand for additional spectrum beyond the “base spectrum”. This should be based on Traffic Analytics and should be good to predict traffic increase based on regular patterns, subscriber addition and extraordinary events in the city.

Triggered by the early warning system, a request should be made to the Spectrum Holding Company’s database for additional frequency or frequencies, along with the duration for which the additional spectrum is required.

Allocating the additional Spectrum

Frequency Planning is a heuristic process based on the number of frequencies that one has and the reuse pattern to be implemented across the network (to minimize co-channel interference). The Operator’s systems should have predefined “maps” for applying the additional spectrum across the network. Once the additional spectrum is committed by the Spectrum Holding Company, the same should be assigned to various base station using the appropriate predefined map for the total number of frequencies (base + additional) and the reuse pattern through a script to be executed automatically at the Radio Network Controller.


Based on my past job, where I had first-hand experience of running batch jobs to reconfigure the frequency usage map across the network (more than 12 years back), reconfiguration of all base stations to match the new map used to take nearly 4 hours and only with traffic disruption.

Obviously in the case described above, a 4 hour window is too long (even if we are OK with the traffic disruption). The demand window would pass in this time while the additional spectrum is being charged. This is one major challenge to this idea.

The second challenge is that of traffic disruption which cannot be avoided as the carrier itself will undergo change – unless the additional spectrum can be added on by adding transceivers. Even if such an addition is possible, this would mean additional transceivers (hardware; capex) to be built-ahead and remain underutilized.


Questions to the reader are:

  • If you know about this technology, please comment on whether this is a useful way to ensure that spectrum is only allocated based on real-time demand.
  • Any comments on what would be a pricing strategy for the additional spectrum allocated on demand – can it be spot auctions or a quarterly definition of price?
  • In general, is this too wild an idea?
  • What other constraints exist?

2 thoughts on “A Spectrum Management Idea

  1. The percentage of ownership and a transparent MOU of the stakeholders in the holding company is of paramount importance as far as non technical issues are concerned. TRAI has overall jurisdiction ?

    It is of course assumed all operators migrate to this system. Additional cost loading like capex, manpower and billing for the additional spectrum will make the operators nervous about their ROI.

    Can see the analogy to the power sector where over withdrawal in some zones led to the collapse of the whole grid…

    Can’t see any major obstacle towards implementation, can’t speak for technology as it is outside my scope..

  2. At a conceptual level, like the idea of “elasticity” of spectrum.
    The “cloud” pricing models of pay-per-use would work well here, but is too static. Maybe the pricing gets revised every month (much like airline fares).

    A spot auction may tend to inflate the price of the resource in case competitor bidders place dummy bets and then backoff at the last moment. This inflated cost of the spectrum may be passed on to the consumers in form of higher tariffs.

    There could be hybrid pricing model as well. i.e. A fixed amount per month/quarter and in case there is surplus unclaimed spectrum, then have a spot auction.

    A governing body like TRAI could be instituted to ensure fair-trade is maintained.

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