India launches pilot project for testing TV whitespace technology

The project is aimed at improving mobile connectivity in every nook and corner of the country.

With thousands of villages in India still remaining incommunicado at times due to lack of connectivity, the government has decided to conduct experiments on TV whitespace technology and has allotted 127 MHz spectrum to eight organisations.

They include an autonomous body under the Telecom Ministry ERNET India (60 MHz); Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (20 MHz); Indian Institute of Technologies at Mumbai, Delhi, and Hyderabad; 10 MHz or less to each of the International Institute for Information Technology at Bengaluru and Tata Advanced Systems; and another 10 MHz to Collector and Magistrate at Amaravati, according to Indian Minister for Telecommunications Ravi Shankar Prasad.

"The government has issued eight licences for carrying out experiments at several places, using TV whitespace technology, in the frequency band 470-582 MHz," the minister informed the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) in Parliament.

If the project succeeds, complaints of call drops and no connectivity -- not only in rural and interior areas but also even in multi-storied complexes and basements -- will be a thing of past, as TV whitespace technology utilises the part of spectrum that remains unused while transmitting broadcast signals. The technology is said to have the ability to overcome these hassles compared with Wi-Fi signals which cannot penetrate beyond a couple of walls.

Though global tech giant Microsoft requested the government a few months ago to allot unused spectrum to enable it to provide last mile connectivity in the remote regions of the country, the government apparently succumbed to the lobbying by telecommunication firms, which demanded that spectrum should not be given free to any organisation, and rejected the plea.

As much as 100MHz of the available spectrum in the 470-585MHz band has been lying unutilised in India at present, including for analogue TV transmission. Since one whitespace base station covers twice the footprint of 800 MHz LTE eNode and 20 times footprint of a single 2.6GHz eNode, the capital expenditure on infrastructure will be reduced drastically.

Welcoming the government's decision, Dynamic Spectrum Alliance (DSA) executive director Prof H Nwana said that TV whitespace technology has many benefits and was evident in its usage in countries like Philippines, Japan, the UK, the US, Canada, and others.

"India has a rural population of 833 million (69 percent) inhabiting over 641,000 villages. The rural tele density is only 48.66 compared with the urban tele density of 149.7 and there is a huge gap of 101.04. The usage of TV whitespace technology will help in bridging this gap," he said.

Since schemes like Digital India, e-Citizen, and smart cities rely on the internet penetration, they need to focus on backhaul spectrum, he said.

He also said that TV whitespace rules allow for secondary use of a band whilst protecting the primary user, and that in the TV bands the primary user is clearly TV.

The Cellular Operators Association of India did not respond regarding the decision.

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