There has been interest surrounding spectrum in telecommunications ever since the Government of Ghana granted a free spectrum to the nation’s two leading network service providers — MTN Ghana and Vodafone Ghana. The grant which would last for three months is to enable the two telcos to connect more subscribers at faster data speeds — at a time that internet usage has increased due to several everyday activities moving to the cyberspace in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The importance of government’s generosity, however, seems to have been lost on many Ghanaians as not a lot of people know the importance of spectrum in telecommunications and how it impacts their everyday internet usage. So what I’ll be doing with this article is to explain what a spectrum is and its function in every network service provider’s infrastructural setup.
What is a spectrum in telecommunications?
Spectrum in telecommunications refers to the range of radio frequencies allocated to a service operator within the telecom industry and related sectors — in order for communication over the airwaves to take place. The more frequencies (coverage and capacity bands) a network operator has, the more people it can connect to at faster speeds.
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How does it impact network service?
As stated earlier, having more spectra means the network operator can connect more subscribers at faster data or voice speeds.
A basic way to explain it is this.
Consider the spectrum to be a vehicle lane. Now, more lanes going in a direction means that there will be a free flow of traffic. Assuming there aren’t enough lanes for the vehicles, the flow of traffic would either be slow or there will be a jam.
To avoid a jam, the network operator would have to pay for that extra spectrum from the government — and it doesn’t come cheap. Telecommunication networks with the fastest internet speeds have high internet data costs because they paid much to be able to deliver such premium service; so they can’t undercharge and run at a loss.
Acquiring a spectrum in telecommunications
While the processes involved in reserving a spectrum in telecommunications may vary depending on the country in question, there’s a standard procedure that almost all adhere to, and it is as follows:
Government announces the auctioning off of a portion of the available radio spectrum.
Interested telecom companies participate in the auctioning.
The winning bidder gets to use the spectrum to benefit its commercial activities for the stated period of time.
The winning bidder is allowed to enter into spectrum sharing agreements with other interested telcos. Usually, this is to help offset the cost of acquiring it.
There’s usually a Spectrum Usage Charge which the winning bidder pays annually to the government. This is different from the bidding amount.
Once the contractual period has elapsed, the process is repeated all over again.
A telecom spectrum is like the conductor in an electrical circuit or the road network that connects various parts of a town or city. Just as more vehicle lanes mean an easier traffic flow, multiple spectra imply that millions of subscribers can be connected at fast internet speeds with no drop in network quality.
That is basically what spectrum in telecommunications is all about.