A change in the way India’s Department of Telecom (DoT) calculates the total bandwidth available in a service area will effectively allow operators to hold more spectrum in a given region.

The Telecom Commission, the DoT’s highest decision-making body, has recommended changing how it measures total bandwidth so all spectrum available, regardless of whether operators have returned the airwaves to the DoT and they remain unsold or they are merely unused, must be counted, The Economic Times reported.

The new formula is a major change from the existing regulation that doesn’t include spectrum that is returned as part of the overall pool. This negatively impacts holding limits by artificially shrinking the spectrum pool as the caps are calculated by dividing an operator’s holding by the total airwaves available in a region.

Regulations limit an operator to holding 25 per cent of the total spectrum in one service area and no more than 50 per cent of the airwaves in a single band (in one service area).

A month ago the DoT decided not to increase existing spectrum caps. Coming soon after the cabinet approved spectrum sharing and trading, the decision was seen as a major setback for the country’s operators as it would limit the sharing and trading of spectrum between the two largest players in a service area. Analysts said at the time it would slow efforts to improve use of the country’s limited spectrum through consolidation.

The commission’s decision, which needs to be approved by the telecom minister, will give operators more flexibility to use spectrum effectively by loosening the current restrictions on sharing and trading within a service area.

The Times quoted Rajan Mathews, director-general of the Cellular Operators Association of India, as saying: “Expanding the definition of the amount of spectrum to be included is another way to make headroom for a consolidation and would be welcome.”