He was unusually dressed for the India Today conclave - amid a sea of men in ties and business suits, Rohan Narayana Murty, the son of Infosys founder N.R. Narayana Murthy, moved in black chinos and a white shirt he had not even bothered to tuck in. On the first day of the conclave, Murty, a computer scientist at Harvard University spoke on spectrum, or airwaves, and how, with better technology, these can be used more efficiently.
There has been a scramble for spectrum in recent years as the number of mobile users in India grew exponentially. While the government has called spectrum a 'scarce resource', telecom operators have been complaining bitterly about the exorbitant prices the government wants to charge for it. Meanwhile call drops and network failures are becoming distressingly common, all due to the growing congestion of the airwaves. But Murty held a contrary view. "There is a lot of inefficiency in the usage of spectrum. It is under-utilised," he said.
Currently, Murty explained, the band of spectrum available for commercial use could be compared to a road with several lanes, where each lane is owned by one telecom operator (or radio channel or television channel operator). As with roads, the flow of traffic in each lane is not constant - there are times when some lanes are almost empty. He suggested that if a particular lane has little or no usage/traffic, it could also be used by operators other than the one who owns it. But the right regulatory environment should first be created for this to happen. There should a governmental framework in place to allow this kind of sharing and cross usage. Countries such as the United States, Singapore, Britain, Germany and Brazil had all taken this path.
"Regulators are thinking about spectrum in a traditional way," he says. "I hope the new breed of regulators look into this."
Murty and his collaborators are working towards making this happen, using technology and creating a repository on the Internet, with a huge database of how spectrum is being utilised. Every operator or owner will just need to go into this repository and use the free space whenever and wherever it is available. But the lane owner will obviously have first priority.