V-Band — a spectrum of benefit to all

TV Ramachandran | Updated on November 11, 2020

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Idling 60 GHz microwave band, if delicensed, can be win-win for all stakeholders. Telcos’ fears are unfounded

V-Band, a 60 GHz microwave band that’s been lying idle and unused in India for years, has become a subject of needless controversy and the general public, industry and the economy are losing out heavily.

The broadband camp wants it delicensed (as normal practice for WiFi spectrum) for providing the general public ubiquitous affordable broadband through high download and upload capacity WiFi everywhere and also innumerable Short Range Devices (SRDs) and innovative applications of practical utility.

However, the telco (telecom service provider or TSP) camp is opposing this unfortunately due to fears of losing market share and also under the apprehension that this might become a back-door entry into provision of regular mobile services by entities that do not have a valid mobile licence. These are baseless fears and the situation is rather ironic because it could actually be a win-win for all the stakeholders.

There is a very strong case for delicensing of V-Band. The regular V-Band is from 57 to 64 GHz and has been delicensed several years ago in about 70 countries of the world (Australia, the US, Canada, Brazil, the UK, Germany and the EU and CEPT nations, China, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, etc) and huge benefits reaped for the public and the economy.

TRAI’s thumbs-up

TRAI had also recommended this in 2014 and reiterated it in 2015, 2017 and 2018. It is also in consonance with our policy, the NDCP 2018. The National institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP) — an autonomous research body under the Ministry of Finance — has also recommended the delicensing of V-Band.

It highlighted that the US achieved benefit of about $250 billion. With our four times larger population and far less served by broadband and SRDs, it is estimated that we could derive several-fold higher volume of benefits. Do we need any more validation?

Since this band is heavily absorbed (attenuated) by atmospheric oxygen, it decays within a few hundred metres and therefore unsuitable for backhaul use by telcos but ideal for WiFi.

There is also an upper/extended V-Band from 64 to 71 GHz — equal in quantum to the regular V-Band but having better propagation characteristics due to freedom from oxygen attenuation. Therefore, this is better suited for the telcos’ backhaul application. Many countries have delicensed this also but we could appropriately reserve it for our telcos. This would give them equal bandwidth in the V-Band which would be optimal for their purpose.

It should be noted that the broadband traffic from WiFi hotspot providers has to be handed over only to telcos for carriage and processing (for suitable charges) because the former does not have the requisite licensed core network nor the rights of unique subscriber numbers, interconnection or right-of-way for infrastructure without which nothing can be done with the broadband traffic. Hence, this delicensed regular V-Band opens up new revenue streams for the telcos and will benefit them significantly. There cannot be a back-door to regular mobility.

Delicensing the V-Band offers benefits to start-ups, MSMEs, and device manufacturers who can keep costs low for the end-user and provide much-needed devices for medical diagnostics, RFID, telemetry, radar, etc. It is extremely effective at carrying a high-capacity signal — but over very short distances. This makes it ideal for SRDs. These device manufacturers can use the V-Band to offer innovative solutions to people.

It should be understood also that the telcos anyway have the right to also provide public WiFi hotspots like the WiFi providers, if they want to. Moreover, for level playing field, they could transparently show through accounting separation, their public WiFi hotspot revenues separately and that would attract the same terms and conditions as applicable for the WiFi providers. WiFi service is only a small sub-sect of the telco’s large portfolio of services and, frankly, their’s is not an exclusive licence that bars a different category of service provider from proving a sub-sect from their permissible range of services.

India has a huge deficiency in both broadband speeds as well as adequate availability of good quality public WiFi hotspots. We have only about 0.3 million hotspots against a requirement of 8-10 million hotspots to be on a par with global average. Our broadband speeds are less than half of global norms. Both these can be addressed by having powerful WiFi from delicensed V-Band.

To meet our requirement of healthcare, retail and logistics, radar and research activities, we also desperately need to have a plethora of powerful modern short-range devices. All these vital needs can be met conveniently only through delicensing of the regular V-Band.

Incumbent telcos should discard their unfounded fears and embrace growth and progress. There is a great win-win opportunity for all stakeholders and it would indeed be sad if India were to miss this road to more ‘Atmanirbartha’.

The writer is Hon. Fellow of IET (London) and President, Broadband India Forum. Views expressed are personal.

Published on November 11, 2020

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