Wireless Spectrum in India

I got curious about allocation of wireless spectrum in India, and I did a bit of digging to understand what bands were allocated for what purposes. My interest in this was partly to investigate what frequencies were license-free, so that they could be used for hobbyists, personal and civilian communication networks without applying for licensing.

I found this information in the National Frequency Allocation Plan (NFAP), which I have linked to below. Apparently, the NFAP is reviewed every 2 years, and the last document I found was the NFAP-2011. The Wireless Planning and Coordination Wing (WPC) of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology puts out this information.

There is a graphic chart from 2002 (linked below), but it is not up-to-date, so use it with caution. For all intents and purposes, the NFAP-2011 is the most up-to-date information available (conditions apply).

The spectrum is allocated by means of gazetted notices and circulars, and as such there is no single Act or Law which deals with allocation of specific frequency bands. After perusing a few circulars which deal with allocating frequency bands for “unlicensed” usage, I find that the following bands are available for use without any licenses from the relevant authorities. Each of these come with maximum emitted power in specified bandwidths.

1. 50-200 KHz –  GSR90(E) dated 10.02.2009
Tyre pressure indicator systems for use by airlines during all phases of flight, vehicle security system and other low power devices are the intended use case.

Base unit: 1610, 1640, 1675, 1690 kHz, 43.720, 43.740, 43.820, 43.840, 43.920,
43.960, 44.120, 44.160, 44.180, 44.200, 44.320, 44.360, 44.400, 44.460, 44.480,
46.610, 46.630, 46.670, 46.675, 46.710, 46.725, 46.730, 46.770, 46.775, 46.825,
46.830, 46.870, 46.930 and 46.970 MHz.
Remote Unit: 26.375, 26.475, 26.575, 26.625, 48.760, 48.840, 48.860, 48.920, 49.020,
49.080, 49.100, 49.160, 49.200, 49.240, 49.280, 49.360, 49.400, 49.460, 49.500,
49.670, 49.770, 49.830, 49.845, 49.850, 49.860, 49.875, 49.890, 49.930, 49.970, 49.90,
150.350, 150.750, 150.850 and 150.950 MHz.

The above frequencies are earmarked for cordless Telephones, if you are developing such a system.

1820-1860 kHz
3500-3700 kHz
3890-3900 kHz
7000-7200 kHz
14000-14350 kHz
18068-18168 kHz
21000-21450 kHz
24890-24990 kHz
28000-29700 kHz
50-54 MHz
144-146 MHz
434-438 MHz

Amateur Service is permitted in the above bands.Amateur Service means “Amateur Radio” or Ham Radio, but you need to get a license from the WPC for using it (you have to pass an examination as well).

4. 3213, 5218, 13862.4 kHz, 73.675, 79.025, 159.55, 436.525 MHz
The above frequencies are earmarked for temporary demonstration of equipments and do not require licenses. These might be usable for experimental purposes, but too much information was not available about these bands.

5. 13.553 -13.567 MHz
The above band is available for unlicensed use for very low power radio devices. This band is used by the NFC standard (Near Field Communication) on contactless cards

6. 26.957-27.283 MHz
The above band is available for unlicensed use subject to a maximum radiated power of 5W.

7. 433-434 MHz
The above band is available for unlicensed use subject to a maximum radiated power of 10 mW with a channel bandwidth within 4Khz

8. 335.7125, 335.7375, 335.7625, 335.7875, 335.8125 and 335.8375 MHz,
The above band is available for unlicensed use for remote controlling cranes with a channel bandwidth of 10 KHz and maximum transmit power of 1 mW

9. 402-405 MHz
The above band is available for unlicensed use for very low power remote cardiac monitoring RF wireless medical devices,medical implant communication/ telemetry systems and other such medical RF wireless devices.

10. 926 – 926.5 MHz
“Certain spots” in this band are “open for consideration” for very low power cordless telephones.

11. 1427 – 1535 MHz
This band  may be “considered” for “experimental/ trial/ pilot-study purposes for indigenously developed technologies for point-to-point backhaul and point-to-multipoint access systems” based on request.

12. 2.4-2.4835 GHz
The above band is available for unlicensed use and is used for WiFi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, and many others.

13. 5.150-5.350 GHz , 5.725 – 5.875 GHz
The above band is available for unlicensed use and WiFi routers have started using this band. It may also be used for very low power radio gadgets, radio toys, Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) for Intelligent Transport Networks etc.

14. 5.57 – 5.725 GHz
The above band can be made available on request.

15. 6.0-7.25 GHz
The above band can be used for Ultra Wide Band Equipment.

16. 865-867 MHz
The above band is available for unlicensed use for low power wireless equipment. Please note that 868MHz is not included in this unlicensed band, which is available in other regions for LoRa equipment.

1. Most allocations of frequency are done on a non-exclusive basis, which means they are to be shared.
2. The power levels of communications on the frequencies must be within specified limits to avoid interference. Your unlicensed communication, as a general principle, is not allowed to mess with somebody else’s licensed, or even unlicensed communication.
3. The spectrum allocations are non-permanent and can be changed.
4. Even though you do not need a license to use some of the bands above, you still need to apply for a license to make, sell or import the hardware that makes of these bands. This seems cumbersome, but I expect it is intended to ensure compliance to the regulations.

Links :

1. National Frequency Allocation Plan 2011
2. National Frequency Allocation Plan 2002 Chart

This note is very much a work in progress. I am compiling a much more detailed document for the technically/ business-oriented, please get in touch if you to know more specific information.

Also, I do not guarantee the completeness or acccuracy of this information, as this note is a compilation from available pieces of scattered information from hard-to-find government notifications.

( Not-so ) Cheap Electronics : The Real World

This post arose out of a lengthy Facebook discussion I had quite some time ago. I get this question a lot (and I have to get into this discussion fairly often), so here’s a blog post where I am putting down some perspective.

The original question that triggered the discussion was, that the Raspberry Pi Zero, priced at $5 is being looked at as the next unit of computing. The prices quoted by Indian retailers for this board is Rs. 1500 ( or about $22). The argument was that the boards costed less, were for education purposes (and should consequently enjoy discounted customs duty rates). Even assuming a profit of Rs. 200 (around $3), the boards should have been available for less than Rs. 1000 ($15). Then why was that not happening ?

Not So Cheap Electronics

I commented with a few points, and some others contributed some great points too, which I am summarising below.

1. Raspberry Pis (or other “low-cost” electronics) are “cheap” only for their shock value. Some of them (The Raspberry Pi for sure) have exclusive distributors and everybody must buy only from them. The cost at which a retailer gets his stock from Element14 is generally pretty high when buying in volumes of less than 100 and they are never able to buy at $5. In addition, some manufacturers (the Beaglebone, for example), will provide differential pricing slabs based on order size, and for orders less than 100/200, any retailer / distributor that wants to stock and offer these boards will be getting a higher buying price that is just a little less than announced retail.

2. Shipping charges (which are getting more expensive) and customs duties now get added to the goods (which already left almost no margin for the retailers to operate and profit) once they land in the destination country. Customs duties apply on the goods amount as well as on shipping (which increases the cost by 20% – 45% based on the nature of the goods). After that, based on your city, there are local entry taxes, known as octroi which are about 5% of (Original price + shipping) .

3. By this time, the goods already cost almost 1.4 times of the “low announced shock price” to the retailer/distributor.The retailer, if he/she is buying small or moderate volumes, has already gotten a heavy cost price which is nowhere close to the advertised “cost price” (and it is not their fault). When he/she sells to you, he/she also has to pay taxes on the selling price (not the cost price) and shipping costs within the country.

4. The retailer is taking a risk in stocking components, because he might or might not be able to sell all of them out. There are operating expenses as well, like rent, electricity, staff salaries, website costs etc. All of this is assuming the retailer sells directly on their website. If they put it on a marketplace, there are all kinds of fees : listing fees, commissions per sale, taxes, packaging material fees, etc. That makes it even more expensive on the marketplaces.

5. In addition, if bank deposit rates are around 8% (in India) , the retailer would expect to make more than that in order to justify doing business, otherwise they would be better off just depositing their working capital instead as a Fixed Deposit. A reasonable amount of profit is the only way a retailer can justify doing business AND keep on making things available. Adding middlemen no doubt pads up prices, but the middlemen (in a lot of cases) also make goods conveniently available that otherwise would require a lot of time, effort and money to source.

6. The amount of productivity lost in ordering a component internationally every single time (for prototyping, anyway) is very expensive in terms of cost (described above) and time (it generally takes 2-3 weeks to get there), both of which are sensitive for anybody working on electronics other than as a hobby.

7. There are a lot of big distributors of components, but almost everybody ships the goods to India from warehouses in Singapore. Local entry taxes and shipping are generally extra (unless order sizes cross a certain amount, which individual buyers generally do not cross).

8. Present conditions favour large distributors that are rather high in the distribution chain. For retailers / distributors who are near the bottom of the chain, there is a squeeze from both sides : high prices from above due to lack of “heavy” volume, and high expectations from the customers because of “promises” by manufacturers.

So, for customers (in India at least), you have capitalism in a free market affected by taxing government policies and logistics. You don’t have to like it, but you have to deal with it all the same.

P.S. I’d love to hear from you if there are factual errors or arguments I have missed, do DM me ! I’ll be happy to have this post evolve with more input.