A Time to Start Sharing
Look into sharing spectrum and 'Super Wi-Fi', instead of auctions, refarming and exclusive allocation.
Shyam Ponappa / Nov 01, 2012
Amidst our preoccupation with internal problems of misgovernance, we’re losing track of long-term technical developments elsewhere. For instance, there’s a buzz about “Super Wi-Fi” technology in other countries that's missing in India. Yet this could make spectrum abundant, while avoiding the problems of private allocation. Here’s why India with its floundering, beleaguered telecommunications sector should stay abreast.
Super Wi-Fi using TVWS
The technology for unused TV spectrum bands, or TV White Spaces (TVWS), is referred to as “Super Wi-Fi”, although it doesn’t conform to earlier Wi-Fi standards, nor does it use the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz licence-exempt spectrum. Super Wi-Fi has its own standards (IEEE 802.22, and 802.11 af in draft form) using 470-810 MHz, the “digital dividend” after conversion from analogue broadcast TV. It can be used for long-range rural broadband, and to improve short-range coverage. In the US, where it was pioneered, access is available without a licence to devices registered with a proximate geolocational database. Like regular Wi-Fi, Super Wi-Fi expands the use of available spectrum by sharing access.
These developments should be of vital interest in India to policy makers, operators and users — not only for TVWS as a shared resource, but as an approach that could be extended to other bands, so that limited spectrum availability doesn’t constrain reasonably priced, high-speed data services. This is a serious limitation in India, unlike in other countries where a few operators have sufficient spectrum; in this sense, the need to share spectrum is much greater in India. For example, sharing could provide a better alternative to refarming of the 900 MHz band, allowing for both 4G and legacy uses.
There are a number of advantages of sharing spectrum. First, and important, it can be non-discriminatory. Second, it avoids private allocation; shared spectrum can be accessed without allocation to private parties. Then there is the fact that capital cost is reduced. There is no deadweight loss from capital tied up in auctions, freeing it all for network development and service delivery. Finally, there’s the general misinformation about auctions, which become academic if spectrum is shared. If spectrum is instead auctioned, the public interest – of users, operators and producers – will be adversely affected. (On producers, while local manufacturing is currently insignificant, there is considerable scope if it is set up right, as telecommunications equipment imports are expected to exceed energy imports in a few years.)
Another requirement for constructive resolution is that policy makers be given the requisite space to frame solutions that are genuinely in the public interest. These solutions can be premised on abundance if it is possible, rather than artificial scarcity and rationing. At present, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, the Department of Telecommunications, and other authorities including the Empowered Group of Ministers are under immense pressure to favour aggressive government collections, instead of what might be genuinely beneficial. This is an odd consequence of the government’s increasing loss of credibility, resulting in the rise of populists, “profit haters”, and ignorant-yet-opinionated sceptics. Uninformed attacks on constructive approaches and alternatives need to be presented and seen in a more balanced way by an informed media, press and public, instead of being fuelled by indiscriminate hype.
shyamponappa at gmail dot com
1: Other bands being considered for sharing in the US are:
1695-1710 MHz & 3550-3650 MHz; Unlicensed: 5350-5470 MHz & 5850-5925 MHz. For details, see: http://news.cnet.com/8301-1035_3-57529959-94/defense-department-pushes-spectrum-sharing-as-solution-to-wireless-crunch/
Details on the UK (Cambridge) trials at: http://www.cambridgewireless.co.uk/docs/Cambridge White Spaces Trial - technical findings-with higher res pics.pdf