The Department of Telecom has in principle agreed to a proposal to tap unused spectrum in terrestrial TV frequency bands for offering broadband services.

This spectrum band, lying between 470MHz and 585 MHz, is currently earmarked for broadcasting services globally, but in India only Doordarshan uses it partially for offering terrestrial TV services.

Technology major Microsoft had recently proposed that the unused frequencies, technically called white space, could be used for broadband services. White space refers to spectrum allocated for broadcasting services but which remains unutilised. This spectrum can be used with low-power devices, without causing interference to the broadcasting station. Microsoft had sought an experimental licence to use the frequency band to run a pilot for a two-year period and showcase the technology to deliver services such as education, healthcare and e-governance in the selected villages.

According to top DoT officials, the view of the telecom regulator will soon be sought on how this spectrum band can be put to better use.

“The concept looks implementable but we will have to see how gaps in spectrum bands can be used without causing interference to existing operations. We will undertake detailed pilots and studies on this,” said a DoT official.

A technical committee within the DoT has submitted a report recommending the use of TV white space.

“Doordarshan being the only broadcaster, the occupancy of spectrum for TV operations at various locations in the country is quite limited. Hence, comparatively larger amount of ‘white spaces’ are likely available,” the report stated.

Though the DoT report does not specifically mention the Microsoft proposal, it has recommended that the Centre may authorise agencies to undertake pilot studies.

In 2009, executives from Microsoft met officials of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, including the then Chairman JS Sarma, to demonstrate how vacant spectrum can be used to provide broadband services at a fraction of the cost incurred by existing players.

Researchers at Redmond, US, have been working on this technology for more than five years and believe that it has the potential to be a game changer.

Microsoft has developed a platform that will dynamically scan airwaves and transmit data using the white space in spectrum. Though this is similar to a Wi-Fi network, proponents of white space technology say that their technology offers a much wider range and higher throughput.

The other advantage with this technology is that since it uses vacant spectrum, existing users can continue to operate.

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