New Delhi: The cash-strapped Indian Railways, amid the opposition from private sector, is all set to win the battle over spectrum after prolonged negotiations, as it has been agreed upon to allocate 10 megahertz in premium frequency band valued about Rs 65,000 crore free of cost to the public transporter to enhance passenger safety and security.
The spectrum is essential for the public transporter to modernise its age-old signalling and telecommunication system to match the requirement for speeding up trains, a must for its survival and competing against other modes of transportation.
At present, the national transporter has eight spots in 900 MHz band for mobile train radio communication and GSMR (Global System for Mobile Communication for Railways). As GSMR is becoming an obsolete technology, the Railways have now decided to adopt LTE (long term evolution) technology for achieving broadband communication along the track.
“We have sought 10 MHz in 700 MHz band, which will be used for train control safety application and for monitoring security of passengers in running trains,” a senior Railway Ministry official involved with the process said.
The 700 MHz band is being used worldwide for deployment of 4G and evolution of 5G services as signal transmitted in this frequency band covers vast area compared with other radio frequency range and, therefore, it is one of the most sought-after bands for deployment of 4G.
“We have sought free allocation, as it will be devoid of any commercial gain and will be used for only enhancing security and passenger amenities,” the official said adding that the Railways is not in a position to pay for it.
In the last auction, 700 MHz spectrum, most efficient for 4G, went unsold because of a high reserve price.
Seeking the spectrum free of cost for non-commercial use, the Railways had sent the proposal to the Telecom Department and the issue was forwarded to the Digital Communications Commission (DCC).
The DCC, an inter-ministerial panel under the Telecom Ministry, approved proposal to develop a framework to allocate spectrum to entities without auction for non-commercial and captive usage.
There were several meetings with the authorities concerned highlighting the need for spectrum for passengers' safety and security and finally DCC has agreed upon with the Railways proposal.
DCC has decided to allocate spectrum non-commercial applications to government agencies without auction, said the official aware of the latest development.
However, for commercial organisation, spectrum would be given through auction only.
Railways has moved a cabinet note on the spectrum issue with the Law Ministry approval and it is likely to get the nod and the issue is at present under active consideration of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).
Currently spectrum cost about Rs 6,500 crore per MHz and for 10 MHz it would cost Rs 65,000 crore. Railways will be installing ultra-high speed 4G-based communication network along railway routes.
According to the decision, free spectrum allocation is to be made to government agencies like Railways, defence, department of space and others like Metro rails, Doordarshan, All India Radio for discharge of sovereign functions that are non-commercial in nature.
The spectrum for mobile service access will continue to be given through auction route only.
Railways has a network size of over 66,000 route km connecting more than 8,000 stations on which 21,000 passenger and freight trains run every day to move eight billion passengers and one billion tonnes of freight annually.
Besides free spectrum, Railways is also getting Rs 500 crore under Nirbhaya Fund for installing CCTV cameras at stations and coaches.
The national transporter has floated tenders inviting private players to install and operate CCTV cameras to enhance the surveillance system in the entire rail network. Apart from CCTV cameras, about 4,800 stations will also be covered with Wi-Fi system under corporate social responsibility of Tata Trust.
Arun Kumar Das is a freelance journalist and can be contacted at [email protected].