Whitespace to bridge digital divide in India

Tuesday, 31 January, 2017

Whitespace to bridge digital divide in India

Cost-effective broadband services will be made available in India, following a partnership between the WhiteSpace Alliance (WSA) and the Indian government.

WSA has suggested that the use of available TV band channels would provide widespread broadband connectivity to support the nation’s ‘Digital India’ initiative.

Unused TV band channels could serve as fixed wireless access spectrum for middle- and last-mile connectivity to villages, as well as for many small and medium enterprises. This infrastructure could also support a wide range of e-payment, e-governance and e-services applications.

Under the nation’s current program, BharatNet, India’s national fibre-optic network, is expected to provide a high-speed backbone network to a central point within a cluster of villages known as Gram Panchayats. While last-mile connectivity within individual villages could be supported by a variety of access methods such as Wi-Fi and/or LTE, the mechanisms to deploy cost-effective middle-mile connectivity between these network levels have not yet been specified.

“Utilising TV band spectrum can help make a digitally empowered India a reality,” said Dr Apurva N Mody, chairman of WhiteSpace Alliance.

“Technical standards are in place, products are available and similar policy frameworks have already been implemented in other countries. With appropriate policies in place, the vision of Digital India can move forward rapidly, and even traditional wireless operators can have a play.”

The powerful propagation characteristics of TV band spectrum make white space solutions ideal for providing such middle-mile connectivity to rural and remote areas. Wired infrastructure is not cost-effective to deploy in these situations, and vegetation makes line-of-sight wireless solutions unreliable. In addition, white space devices are easy to install, require relatively little power and are reliable in difficult environmental conditions, minimising ongoing implementation costs.

“White space technologies overcome many cost barriers associated with large-scale broadband deployments,” said Hemant Mallapur, founder of WSA member Saankhya Labs.

“Better propagation means that signals travel longer distances, antennas can be deployed at rooftop height instead of on large towers and network configurations don’t require line of sight.”

Adoption of white space solutions continues to accelerate around the world. The United States, United Kingdom, Singapore and the Philippines have formally issued regulations, and deployments have begun.

Regulations and field trials are also underway in Canada, Colombia, South Korea and Indonesia, as well as Malawi, Botswana and South Africa. White spaces have been recognised by both the International Telecommunications Union and the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development as an important mechanism to bridge the global ‘digital divide’.

Image credit: ©FreeImages.com/Flavio Takemoto

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