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Colours of spectrum

Mobile phone is an indispensable mode of communication today and we’ve heard a lot about spectrum these days.

Colours of spectrum

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  4 Sep 2022 5:15 AM GMT

Kamal Baruah

(The writer can be reached at

Mobile phone is an indispensable mode of communication today and we've heard a lot about spectrum these days. In the past, most of the radio frequency spectrums were reserved for Armed Forces that played a strategic role in warfare while transmitting signals to distant installations, ships and aircrafts. Common people probably guess that spectrum has something to do with mobiles. The word was first used in optics to describe the rainbow of colours in visible light after passing through a prism. But spectrum basically means a range of radio waves that allow communication. In fact mobile devices, FM and all those devices that have Bluetooth require radio waves. The word spectrum gained popularity in 2010-11, when India reported the 2G scam: people followed it with massive interest.

The spectrum is a lifeline of the telecom sector. With spectrum come frequencies, it's the number of repetitions of the wave in a period. A wave repeated slowly is called low frequency and a wave repeated more times is referred to as high frequency. Spectrum surrounds us. There would be a complete chaos and the interference would be amplified. Thus it needs to be regulated and thereby divided into bands. The telecom frequency range from 800 MHz to 2300 MHz is used for cellular communication like GSM, WCDMA and LTE by every country to facilitate roaming services. However, India manages its spectrum effectively by dividing into 22 Telecom Circles.

Cellular technology has transformed our lives and we often come across the terminology 'G'. The evolution started since First Generation (1G) in 80s followed by revolutionary Motorola 2G in 1992 at a meagre speed of 0.1 to 0.3 Mbps for voice calls and SMS. People poured out for mobile connection after 1995. 3G @ 1.5–7.2 Mbps in 2008 made it possible for web browsing, when BSNL incorporated. Nokia became a household name then. 4G @ 10–150 Mbps launched in 2012 enabling video consumption with higher data speed and 3D virtual reality. Free calls and data from Jio in 2016 led India's 4G revolution. Users on social network site swelled. Consumers were hungry for more and faster internet bandwidth. With global data traffic doubling every alternative year, the world's demand is for a high-speed connectivity, no matter what's the tariff.

Upcoming Fifth Generation (5G) in LTE (long term evolution) platform is the answer. 5G is not only about downloading / uploading speed at 50 Mbps, it reduces the latency i.e. time it takes to send data, could go as low as 1 millisecond (ms). 5G has greater bandwidth, wider area in the frequency spectrum giving higher download speeds, eventually up to 10 Gbps that will ensure no network congestion. In this high-band spectrum (30-300GHz), internet speeds have been tested to be as high as 20 Gbps as compared to 4G at 1 Gbps.

5G facilitates our entire ecosystem. Its application incorporates massive IoT (Internet of Things) that connects devices over internet with the help of cloud system to stream software updates and navigation data. AI (Artificial Intelligence) and leveraging machine learning have changed our daily lives while streaming of 16K video and films are catching on. Several futuristic initiatives such as quantum computing, automate network management, virtual spaces & predictive cybersecurity, smart cities, smart farming, telemedicine, controlling of critical infrastructure and self-driving vehicles are in the offing. That will be a real breakthrough and could be a critical enabler of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. 5G will surely enhance experiences and drive digitization of industries.

Finally the excitement about 5G roll-out is about to begin in 13 cities of India in the first phase after auctioning spectrums to Jio, Airtel, Voda-Idea and Adani recently. But there are hurdles in rolling out. India being a traditional late adopter of advanced technologies, is still struggling to achieve the speed which 4G network offers. Our average download speed is 9.12 Mbps in comparison to the global average speed of 23.54 Mbps. The arrival of 5G enabling smart devices can be a game changer for better service delivery, faster access and deeper penetration of digital services.

The critical question is how fast will be its speed. In real world 5G, the low band spectrum travel long distances but it delivers slower download speed and high band mm Wave spectrum gives superfast download speed but it can't travel far. Download speed also depends on how many people are connected to the network. The more people connected to a cell tower at one time, the less bandwidth can be dedicated. Although 5G has higher speed, the end users notice extra low latency due to open up of new applications in the IoT space. 5G rollout has issues with carriers and smartphone manufacturers too.

The 5G spectrum offers ultra-high speeds about 10 times faster than 4G, lag-free connectivity, and can enable billions of connected devices to share data in real-time. It can download full-length high-quality video or movie to a mobile device in a matter of seconds even in crowded areas. Isn't that sort of colours of spectrum absolutely beautiful? And what's more, the spectrum bidders have had their day, while the government collected a windfall of Rs 1.5 lakh crore, consumers are at loggerheads with the increasing data pack. And for that blazing speed, get your phone replaced or upgraded and be ready for higher recharge. Consumers will soon see true colours of telecom spectrum hereafter.

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