The country’s premier technology institute, Indian Institute of Technology – Bombay and WhiteSpace Alliance (WSA) have come together to conduct a pilot using television spectrum to provide fixed wireless broadband service to a few villages in the state of Maharashtra.
The pilot will leverage underutilized television spectrum to provide fixed broadband services between Khamloli village in the Indian state of Maharashtra and its neighboring villages: Maswan, Haloli, Ganje, and Pargaon. The program was initiated in the second quarter of the current calendar year, says a press release.
“Extending broadband Internet access, particularly to our large rural population, is critical to India’s economic development”, said Prof. Abhay Karandikar, Professor and Head, Department of Electrical Engineering, IIT Bombay. “This program will demonstrate the viability of sharing unused TV Band spectrum to dramatically accelerate that build-out.” The program utilizes a grant from Ford Foundation.
“Dynamic allocation of available spectrum holds vast potential for accelerating broadband deployments”, said Dr. Apurva N. Mody, Chairman of the WhiteSpace Alliance. “TV whitespace solutions can help expand important e-education and e-health initiatives across the country.”
“The propagation characteristics of VHF/UHF signals make them ideal for use in rural areas where wired infrastructure is not cost effective to deploy, and vegetation makes line-of-sight wireless solutions unreliable. Use of advanced database technologies enables dynamic, highly efficient identification and management of available spectrum,” says the press release.
“There is a lot of TV white space available in the country in the 470-590 MHz band. While it is in inception, we believe that a suitably designed mesh network in the TV band will significantly address the lack of rural broadband coverage in India,” concludes a recent white paper by Prof. Animesh Kumar of Infonet Lab, Electrical Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay.
Further, owing to the low frequency of white space, it can travel much further and is also able to penetrate through buildings. Besides, the digitization of broadcasting sector means that more underutilized television spectrum would be available in the country. Google has also championed the use of unlicensed TV white space. Last year saw the launch of ISP Cal.net, which is the America’s first consumer white space broadband service.
This is not the first time that an unconventional method is being utilized to provide broadband. Tikona started by using unlicensed band to provide Wi-Fi-based services. Kymeta, a company commercializing metamaterials surface antenna technology—that uses satellites for providing mobile and portable broadband connections—says the technology could be the answer to fulfill India’s dream for improve broadband penetration ubiquitously. Sometime back, Sting Broadband had also demonstrated Project Kaon, which enables the delivery of broadband at a fraction of the regular cost.
The Indian Government would do well to use different technologies to provide broadband connectivity across the country. The country has been struggling to increase the broadband penetration and has been banking on the wireless technology to offer internet to the masses. However, the high cost of the spectrum purchased by the service providers makes it difficult to offer data at a reasonable price.
The Government had launched National Optical Fiber Network (NOFN) to connect all village panchayats. However, the last mile connectivity still has to be established using FTTH or DSL, involving significant capex. Further, the return on investment is much lower in the rural areas which means that it is not a priority for the telcos. In this background, unconventional technologies might be in a position to play a significant role in bringing broadband to the rural areas.
-Gagandeep Sodhi, Editor, Light Reading India