The talk around re-farming spectrum has thrown up a question around why incumbent GSM operators are against giving up 900 Mhz band.
There are two reasons why 900 Mhz is superior to the 1800 Mhz band. The first is because laws of physics state that the higher you go on the frequency band, the lower will be the wavelength. Simply put signals sent out using higher frequency bands will travel lesser distance than signals sent on a lower frequency band.
This propagation characteristic also makes signals transmitted on 900 Mhz more potent when it comes to indoor coverage. It has been proven that 900 Mhz band has 30-40 per cent better coverage than 1800 Mhz band.
To make up for this, mobile companies on 1800 Mhz have to invest more in setting up larger number of base stations to achieve the same coverage as in the 900 Mhz band.
Analysis Mason report
A report from research firm Analysis Mason said the operators using 900 Mhz spectrum will need to install 1,71,954 more base stations to match their existing coverage if they were to start using 1800 Mhz spectrum.
This investment required to do this shifting is putting off incumbent GSM operators including Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular.
Other than laws of physics, availability of devices and network equipment at affordable price is one of the main reasons why a particular frequency band scores better than the other.
Superior commercial ecosystem
The 900 Mhz band has a superior commercial ecosystem than 1800 Mhz. That’s because 900 Mhz frequency band has been in use for mobile communications globally for over 20 years and as a result technology standards have been better developed compared with 1800 Mhz band, which has been in use only recently.
Therefore this band has become suitable not just for offering plain vanilla GSM-based voice calls but also fourth generation broadband services.
In India, the 900 Mhz band was first allocated in 1994 whereas the 1800 Mhz band started being used from 2001 when the fourth cellular licence was auctioned.
A significant part of this frequency band is being used by defence agencies, hence spectrum in this band is scarce for commercial mobile applications.
Currently all commercially available 900 Mhz spectrum is being used by incumbent Indian operators for offering GSM services. New players are hoping that once this band is taken away from the incumbents, then they may have a chance to buy this spectrum to offer 4G services.
Incumbent players on the other hand want to retain their rights over this piece of prime property and milk its inherent qualities to their own advantage.