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Expanding Affordable Broadband Reach in India in absence of Adequate Fiberisation: Means to Fulfil the Digital India and Atmanirbhar Bharat Mandates

The Background

Figure 1. India Mobile Telephony & Internet-Broadband Adoption, 2010-2019

Source: Department of Telecommunications (DoT), Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, Government of India; Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI); International Telecommunications Union (ITU)

The Challenge and the Diagnosis

2020’s unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic is reshaping every aspect of society as we know it, including the corporate and industrial world, educational institutions, healthcare services, travel & transportation, tourism and hospitality, and many more. The pandemic has forced a new paradigm – maintain social distancing while ensuring business continuity. Many organizations have declared that work from home (WFH) will be a ‘way of life’ going forward. This means that decision makers at all levels – whether corporate, institutional, government or families/individuals must adapt to life in the ‘new normal’.

Very clearly, to keep the general economy ticking, allow public services to function, deliver online education to as many students as possible, supplement healthcare treatment routines with m-health consultations, disseminate critical information, etc., the world is going to need the services of players like TSPs, ISPs, IT, and ITeS, and content service providers more than ever before.

The fallout of the above is a huge surge in demand for high-speed, broadband data from homes, offices, factories, transportation and public utility operations around the world. This is equally true of India in the current, globally connected economy. Unfortunately, broadband access in India is still patchy in many places – underserved areas of large cities, upcountry towns, off-grid villages and remote hamlets. There is a key factor that is creating this gap between ‘India’ and ‘Bharat’ – only 25-30% of mobile telecommunication towers on average are ‘fiberized’ – large ‘Internet shadow’ areas do not have FTTH (fibre to the home) or FTTC (fibre to the campus) infrastructure – essential to deliver high-speed broadband access.

The Challenge and the Diagnosis

It would be prohibitive to lay out an optical fibre network to carry high bandwidth data in a downtown area like, say, Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi or, other similar crowded commercial location. Instead, what service providers, with due policy approval from DoT, TRAI, state and local governments can do is deploy E band (71-76 GHz) and V band (57-64 GHz), also known as wireless fibre. While E band can deliver backhaul support for a 5-6 km range, V band can provide high-performance connectivity for shorter distances of 100-200 metres. The installation and proliferation of such Wi-Fi hotspots in industrial estates like SEEPZ in Mumbai or Okhla Industrial Estate in New Delhi could especially benefit small and mid-size businesses. Successful deployments of V band include in-building and in-campus Wi-Fi solutions, short-range devices (SRDs) used for medical diagnostics, RFID, Telemetry, Radar etc. Thus, these bands can effectively cater to the emerging demand for work from home/work from anywhere solutions.

Judicious deployment of E band and V band infrastructure in both rural and urban settings could help India meet the planned tower fiberization targets of at least 60% (Source: NDCP 2018).

Global E band and V band Regulatory Regimes vis-à-vis Recommendations for Government of India

Worldwide, the E band has been in operation since 2010 in over 100 countries and is subject to a light-regulatory regime. The V band has been opened for delicenced use in more than 80 countries, including by early adopters FCC (USA) and Ofcom (UK). Innovation in the V band has allowed development of the Wi-Fi ‘g’ standard that helps to provide high-speed broadband connectivity for end-users.

COUNTRY LICENCE STRUCTURE LICENCE FEE
USA Online light licence US$ 75 for a 10-year licence
United Kingdom Light licence £ 50 per year
Czech Republic Unlicenced Free of charge
Russia Light licence Minimal registration fee
Australia Light licence AU$ 187 per year
UAE Traditional PTP Dh 4,500 per year
Ireland Traditional PTP € 952.30 per year
Jordan Traditional PTP JD 200 per year
Bahrain Traditional PTP 1% of generated link revenue

Source: NIPFP Working Paper, No. 226, 2nd April 2018

Since 2014-2015, the TRAI has been strongly recommending to the DoT to offer the E and V bands under a ‘light licencing’ regime in line with international best practices.

The National Digital Communications Policy 2018 (NDCP 2018) has also recommended the use of E and V bands to help improve the availability of affordable and efficient broadband connectivity to users.

The National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP) in its report titled ‘The Economics of Releasing V-band and E-band Spectrum in India’ quotes studies from the US that show the likely economic value addition from delicencing of the V band to be of the order of nearly US$ 240 billion. A large country like India with a strong IT expertise across multiple sectors can certainly hope to garner a similar, if not larger value of economic gains from speedy, transparent and efficient roll-out of E and V band spectrum.

V band usage in Wi-Fi would also generate humongous volumes of data for backhaul by Telcos and ISPs via the extended V band (64-71 GHz), generating substantial revenues for these players.

Thus, E band and V band allocation can help create a high degree of innovation in the applications and services space, as well as deliver inclusive and affordable broadband to every citizen. This would be a firm step forward in the realisation of a Digital India and Atmanirbhar Bharat.

Written by:

VISHAAL BHATNAGAR
Chief Customer Officer
StrategINK

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this feature article are of the author. This is not meant to be an advisory to purchase or invest in products, services or solutions of a particular type or, those promoted and sold by a particular company, their legal subsidiary in India or their channel partners. No warranty or any other liability is either expressed or implied.
Reproduction or Copying in part or whole is not permitted unless approved by author.

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