BENGALURU: In a nation of over a billion people, 78 per cent of the population still has no access to the Internet. Extending fiber optics to rural areas, according to experts, will incur huge costs and take long time to install with a few places geographically difficult to reach.Unused broadcasting spectrum – also termed as ‘TV White Space’ – could provide a solution to this problem, as shown by a researcher team from the International Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore.
Started out three years ago and funded by Microsoft, researchers from the institute even carried out a successful feasibility study in the city. Explaining the concept behind the project, Dr Debabrata Das, professor at IIITB says, “So far the government has been providing Internet connectivity primarily by extending fiber optics under the National Optical Fiber Network (NOFN) from district to block and block to gram panchayats (GPs). There is Internet access using fiber optics between one state capital to another state capital, between state capitals and respective districts headquarters, between some district headquarters and taluk/block headquarters and few GPs. However, providing access to villages around the gram-panchayats is where the problem lies. ” Presently there are around 2.5 lakh GPs and around six lakh villages.
Point-to-point TV White Space spectrum can be transmitted between GP to villages using wireless point-to-point devices (the distance in an average 2 kms), such as TV antenna or tower of around only 20 to 30 meters. Inside villages, it will be well received by WiFi routers. “WiFi covers only 100 meters and fiber optics are hard to pull in rural areas. Each GP will have in an average three villages. For around two to three km from the GP to villages, we need good wireless technology for communication and spectrum and TV White Space spectrum can provide an easy, faster and cost effective installation,” says Prof Das.
Access to band didn’t come easy
In 2016, the Department of Telecom announced that it was unwilling to allocate 470-582 MHz spectrum band for commercial usage of TV White Space, putting an end to any innovation or penetration of Internet in needy areas. For the time being, licences to use this spectrum can be received only for research purposes for around three months. However, getting this license even for research purposes is a task.
The team at IIITB got their license the first time after a wait of six months. “The next time we applied for renewal of this license to carry forth our project we did not get a response,” says Prof Jyotsna. Big tech companies such as Microsoft (that wanted iInternet connectivity through TV White Space in India) and Google have been pushing for utilizing of this spectrum all over the world.
Govt tiptoes around Apex Court judgement
Mahesh Uppal, a telecom expert and commentator, says there is no agreement amongst various players as to how white spaces would be used in India. “The government, telecom operators and Microsoft all have very different ideas,” he says. The real challenge is that, thanks to the Supreme Court (SC) judgement, no spectrum can be allocated administratively.
It must be auctioned and allocated in a transparent manner. The telecom operators insist that spectrum needs to be allocated competitively and used after obtaining a licence. They fear fragmentation of the wireless internet market. They claim they have spent big bucks for the mandate to provide services and look at Microsoft’s move as a back-door entry, he adds.