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Can India take a lead from the US?

In April 2020, the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a decision to permit Wi-Fi access to 5.925-7.125 GHz (6 GHz band). This momentous decision is the biggest upgrade to Wi-Fi in 25 years, and will foster Wi-Fi innovation for decades to come.

Based on the FCC decision, Wi-Fi Alliance members are gearing up to produce Wi-Fi 6E enabled devices that offer Wi-Fi 6 capabilities in the 6 GHz band. Broadcom has already announced a Wi-Fi 6E mobile chipset, while Intel has indicated it will have chipsets ready by early 2021. Qualcomm has also committed its support to 6E in next-gen products. More companies will soon follow, and Wi-Fi Alliance expects more than 300 million Wi-Fi 6E devices will come to market by 2021.

The world is watching how the FCC navigates this new arena. UK and the European Commission are considering 5925-6425 MHz, while Brazil has announced its intention to open 6 GHz band for Wi-Fi. South Korea is moving at a quick pace to allow the same usage for Wi-Fi, with the country’s Ministry of Science and ICT moving toward proposing a new regulation allowing the unlicensed use of 6 GHz.

Although the majority of mobile data traffic is being carried on Wi-Fi today, there is only 80 MHz of spectrum in the 2.4 GHz band and 580 MHz in the 5 GHz band, a total of 660 MHz for unlicensed Wi-Fi purposes. With 6 GHz on the horizon, everyone is eyeing the 1200 MHz of spectrum. The shift toward additional channels provided by 6 GHz will allow more utilization of 40 MHz and 80 MHz channels. To get an idea of the potential benefits, compare 80 MHz channel width availability to 5 GHz. Currently, 5 GHz provides six non-overlapping 80 MHz channels. With 6 GHz, there is a 133 percent increase of channels to 14 non-overlapping channels or 7 additional super-wide 160 MHz channels for applications such as high-definition video streaming and virtual reality.

6 GHz will unlock the true potential of Wi-Fi, allowing Wi-Fi operators to increase bandwidth and throughput by finally implementing features that exist in the wireless standards, such as wider channel configuration. Higher bandwidth usage will create room for more innovation over Wi-Fi at a lower cost compared with the alternatives.

Just like 5G
In 2019, Wi-Fi 6, was certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance and now offers a ton of new features, thus, reigniting the fight for the title of the best option for large-scale connectivity. Just like 5G, Wi-Fi 6 has an improved version of Multi-User MIMO (MU-MIMO) that lets devices respond to the wireless access point at the same time that involves multiple antennas, allowing the access point talk to multiple devices at once. With Wi-Fi 5, the access point could talk to devices at the same time, but those devices couldn’t respond at the same time.

Both technologies also make use of the channel access method Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA), which allows for the division of a wireless channel into a large number of sub-channels, with each one carrying data intended for a different device.

Another shared feature, 1024 quadrature amplitude modulation mode (1024-QAM), enables throughput increases for Wi-Fi 6 by as much as 25 percent over Wi-Fi 5. In the case of 5G, this feature was part of 3GPP Release 15, and it allows 5G to achieve higher peak data rates and spectral efficiency in favourable scenarios.

Lastly, both technologies use beamforming for improved signal power, which results in significantly higher rates at a given range.

Even further, while cellular has always been superior when it comes to mobility, the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) has been hard at work developing Wi-Fi OpenRoaming, a roaming federation service that enables an automatic and secure Wi-Fi experience globally and creates an open connectivity framework for all organizations in the wireless ecosystem, making it more seamless for a user to transition from one Wi-Fi hotspot to another throughout a city.

With Wi-Fi and 5G advancing somewhat parallel to each other, Wi-Fi and 5G will coexist and complement each other. Leveraging both, 5G and Wi-Fi 6, 5G will be used for a wider coverage and Wi-Fi 6 for micro/indoor and high connection density scenarios. Wi-Fi 6 can be an alternate to small cells in a network with backhaul on 5G. This combination makes an ideal case for planned smart city deployments.

India could take a leaf out of this book

With India’s 5G spectrum auction postponed until 2021, the commercial availability of the technology is at least 18-20 months away. NDCP 2018 had planned for 10 million public Wi-Fi hotspots by 2022. India currently has 0.1 million. TRAI believes the country should have 100 million by 2023. The regulator had sent in its recommendations in December 2017, for WANI (WiFi Access Network Interface).

Wi-Fi congestion has been increasing for some time, and when the pandemic hit, the amount of data on Wi-Fi networks skyrocketed, making matters worse. The demand for residential broadband has gone up because of a spike in working and schooling from home to maintain social distancing. Businesses are now forced to work online to ensure continuity, accelerating the digitization of small and midsized enterprises. But India’s broadband deployment and capacity is not uniform across the country, and there is a need to improve it in many regions. The case for increasing wireless bandwidth and capacity has never been greater.

The 6GHz spectrum band, if de-licensed, as in the US, would be a great boon to cater to increased data traffic and will help augment the indoor penetration requirements through Wi-Fi. Telcos need an alternative to meet the growing demand for high-speed connectivity. And Wi-Fi 6 could help plug the gap.

ITU APT urges WPC to delicense part of the 6GHz spectrum

A national workshop held by ITU-APT urging WPC to urgently delicense a suitable part of the 6 GHz spectrum for Wi-Fi, similar to FCC’s opening of its 6 GHz band, from 5925 MHz to 7125 MHz for unlicensed use. The necessity of Wi-Fi for economic development, Atmanirbhar India and Digital India were highlighted. Communications Today was the media partner for the workshop.

Excerpts from the presentations made by stalwarts at the event given.

“The evolution of Wi-Fi to Wi-Fi 6 is as great a step forward technically as 5G is to LTE/4G. Given significant improvements, the technology is no longer at threat of being rendered ineffective by cheap and reliable cellular access but emerges as a strong complementary technology to 5G.

In fact, Cisco projects that 59 percent of mobile data traffic will be offloaded to Wi-Fi by 2022. And cellular operators will have a chance to augment their 5G mobile broadband services by using the 6 GHz band. So, ultimately, it is not a gain for only consumers and the unlicensed users, but for the licensed operators as well.”
Tilak Raj Dua, Director General, TAIPA and Chairman, ITU-APT

“Currently 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands have less than 1 GHZ shared spectrum for all users of Wi-Fi. At least 2 GHz is required to meet the increased need. Shared use of 5925-7125 MHz will increase the efficiency of WLAN networks 4x the throughput of 802.11ac.”
Bharat Bhatia, President, ITU-APT Foundation of India

“As all the devices in the household including TV set, washing machines, security system etc. get connected to the Wi-Fi, dependency on this will be paramount. And this will bring with it a requirement of policy control for security and manageability.

As the cellular offload on Wi-Fi increases, the interoperability between standards will need to be addressed, and a seamless integration between existing wireless technologies facilitated. Synergies will need to be built. The consumer need not be aware which bearer he is riding on, and this can only happen if the technologies are complimentary and merge into one stream, once all converge in a unified, overarching network.”
Shyam Mardikar, President and Group CTO, Mobility, Reliance Jio

“Regional organizations and individual companies are currently considering or developing regulation within the frequency range 5925-7125 MHz for shared use by unlicensed/license exempt applications on a technology- neutral basis (Wi-Fi, 5GNR-U, etc.) with usage conditions that allow co-existence with incumbent users.”
Michael Kraemer, Head of European, Spectrum Strategy Intel Corp, USA

“There is a need for study of economic value for Wi-Fi 6 of the consumer surplus, the producer surplus and the GDP contribution where Wi-Fi 6 will have highest impact. The consumer will get higher speeds, and will be prepared to pay for that, whereas there will no extra cost to it. Producer surplus will come from the increased devices manufactured and sold. GDP contribution will come from the higher speed of Wi-Fi, as AR and VR come into play, and contribute to a larger GDP.”
Rekha Jain–Professor and Executive Chair, IIM Idea Telecom Centre of Excellence at Indian Institute of Management

“I present a couple of my ideas:
There continues the issue of global digital divide. Half the world still does not have access to broadband. There is a need to look at Wi-Fi, which can lift all the boats. It can not only connect the entire world, at a much lower cost, with simpler domestically manufactured equipment, offload the increasing cellular traffic, and serve as a last mile, especially for BharatNet.

For this there will be a need to delicense 6GHz mid band spectrum (versus the 1500 MHz used in many other parts of the developed world). Being a lower GHz band, it is not expected to interfere with the satellite signals. A phased approach is advised.And when V band is available, that could be made available for all the stakeholders.

Harmonization of spectrum management in a transparent manner in my experience leads to all stakeholders rising to the occasion. We must think big but start acting right now.”
J. S. Deepak, Former Secretary DoT, and Ambassador to UNO-WTO

“With the delicensing of 6 GHz band, I do not foresee much of a challenge with indoor applications. But when it comes to outdoors, our problems are different from what are being faced by other countries, like the US. In USA, conventional C band is not used. They have satellites already working there.  With delicensing and ubiquitous usage, aggregated interference to the satellite receiver becomes an issue. A detailed study on how they can co-exist will be required. Already, in the 2.5 GHz band, there is aggregated user equipment radiation in satellite receivers. Protecting existing users is essential.”
M Revathi, Sr. Deputy Wireless Advisor, Ministry of Communications, Wireless Planning & Coordination Wing

“The world over is moving to make 5925-7125 MHz available for unlicensed share use. The US decided on April 23 this year, Republic of Korea has pushed to June 26, and while Brazil had changed the table of frequency earlier this year to allow for the full use of the 5925-7125 band by Wi-Fi, the regulator ANATEL is now developing the detailed technical rules until September 2020. In Europe, the final approval and publication of the new European regulation is planned for November 2020.”
Jayne Stancavage, Global Executive Director, Digital Infrastructure Policy, Intel

“I would like to bring attention to fixed satellite services, two highlights being extent of usage for 6 Wi-Fi band for satellite services and key consideration in carrying out studies for protection of the services. Currently, in the NFAP, 5925-6700 MHz frequency band is used for TV uplink, VSATs, GAGAN, TT&C and MS feeders, while the 6700-7075 MHz frequency band is for VSATs, IRNSS and GAGAN. Globally, 6 GHz C-band is heavily used for satellite communications for a multitude of heritage services. Due to its ubiquitous coverage, high availability and instant connectivity, FSS in C-band plays a key role on the socio-economic development to provide vital services and is also crucial for disaster relief operations.

India has 190 transponders, 146 units on INSAT/GSAT and 41 units on foreign satellites. 60 percent of India’s transponders and almost all of foreign transponders in 5925-6725 MHz are used for TV uplink.

India, after China is the second largest market in the world with 190 million TV households. It has 332 pay TV channels, 98 being HD; 1613 registered MSOs, more than 1 million subscribers and 117 million cable subscribers. There are 287, 424 C and Ku band VSATs with a yearly growth of 5.72 percent.

Some of the considerations in the coexistence studies include suitable propagation model, interference protection criterion, potential harmful interference from aggregate unlicensed operations, devices/terminals density, channel bandwidth and satellite receiver characteristics. Only ITU authenticated parameters, Indian satellites and Indian deployment scenario may be considered.”
Dr P K Jain, Associate Director, Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO)

“COVID is solely responsible for driving the Wi-Fi agenda much faster than any CEO, CIO or CTO could have done. Now we need to move the government and TRAI to ensure that delicensing is a possibility.”
Dilip Chenoy, Secretary General, FICCI

“This is a huge opportunity. The industry will take an irreversible giant leap and the world of connectivity will be seamless. There will be a paradigm shift as devices become five times faster, AR/VR come into play, indoor architecture goes for a complete change with the emergence of indoor dominance of Wi-Fi as a technology.

The benefits of Wi-Fi 6 will be applied without interference, the performance of which will become as attractive to automation and industrial applications as 5G. For the enterprise, the buzz phrase for Wi-Fi connectivity will be 80 MHz is the new 20 MHz, giving much more bandwidth than ever before. It will be a toolbox rather than a service. Many startups are expected to spring up.

Fixed line access, in the case of US the wireless ISPs, will find their bandwidth doubled at the closure of the digital divide. Connecting every village to the world is no longer a pipe dream, this is our path toward achieving that. How to use 6 GHz for the last mile connection, by spending just a few dollars, and building new use cases will become the new opportunity.

I am extremely bullish, and it is time to jump on this bandwagon!”
Claus Hetting, CEO & Chairman, Wi-Fi NOW

“We are still nowhere on the global Wi-Fi scene. The number being touted is 100,000 public hotspots, actually India has 55,000 working hotspots and the credit goes to BSNL, the pioneers and now also to Reliance Jio, who are planning into Wi-Fi deployment with 4G.

All the telcos and ISPs need to come together, take a call that Wi-Fi is an important licensed technology and that a concerted effort is required to set up Wi-Fi hotspots all across the country, both in the urban and rural areas.

India has not even started with Wi-Fi 6 deployment. Only a few enterprises, which are buying the equipment from vendors like Cisco, HPE Aruba and Ruckus to some extent, are working on deploying Wi-Fi 6. Most of the deployment in India is still on 802 mode. It’s a little premature to talk about Wi-Fi 6E for India, it is a very important phenomena, and as usual India is being left behind. We are already behind in the 5G race. The only saving grace can be that if the band is unlicensed, the telecom operators, ISPs or other players, not having to wait for TRAI or DoT can immediately start deploying to achieve connectivity.

I shall keep on repeating at every opportunity I get that India needs to start setting up Wi-Fi hotspots as a first step and then push TRAI and DoT to open up the 6 GHz for indoor channels, or even 5.9 GHz or allow sharing of the active and passive components in the 5.8 GHz. We have to take steps of moving on from 802.11n to 802.11ac and then into deploying Wi-Fi 6 on unlicensed bands.
A WPA study reveals that 78 percent IT managers would like to deploy Wi-Fi 6E as the part of their network strategy.  The convergence and the co-existence of Wi-Fi with 5G is being worked out. We are working closely 3GPP and NGMN on this particular aspect. 6GHz has the capacity, efficiency, coverage, and the performance. We will keep requesting the government to open the band.”
Paramjit Singh Puri, Director and Head Industry Engagement and Membership, Wireless Broadband Alliance

“The present pandemic has created a new normal for all of us and it has been aptly brought out that the data requirements have gone up by at least 30-40 percent, thereby putting a lot of pressure on telecom service providers. It makes a very strong case for offloading TSP traffic onto the Wi-Fi networks for creating the sizeable amount of the bandwidth available for the other people who are buying for it.

Creating tech-nets within the house, wherein all the devices in the house are intelligent devices is sought. The ubiquitous broadband has performed extremely well in these trying times, be it in healthcare, education, business, entertainment, enterprise or manufacturing. NDCP 2018 has rightly identified the importance of broadband infrastructure and the digital infrastructure in the country.

However, Wi-Fi 6 has a very pertinent case for enterprise networks, that will be the driving force for data growth in times to come. Apart from the increasing telecom traffic, the productivity of the enterprise networks will depend on the available digital infrastructure. Wi-Fi increases the effectivity of the wireline services. Once Wi-Fi 6 is proliferated for enterprise networks, it will contribute toward the overall GDP of the country. In case of the skill development sector, e-learning and medical platforms there exist excellent Wi-Fi solutions for the rural areas. Wi-Fi 6 must be considered a precursor for deployment in the rural areas with broadband connectivity already being rolled out under the National Broadband Mission.

Protocols as well as standards will gain importance, thanks to the technologies as OFDMA. Wi-Fi 6 will support 1024-QAM and new modulation and coding schemes that define higher data rates. Hence, the standards, protocols, security, and data privacy aspects can be worked out well once the 6 GHz band is opened for the industry.

Opening the 6 GHz band to Wi-Fi is expected to contribute USD 83.06 billion to the US GDP over the next five years. The full 1200 MHz will be allocated to indoor, low-power devices, such as those used heavily in M2M and IoT. The Indian industry too needs to push for the development and eye unconventional areas like enterprise networks, where this can be gainfully utilized and increase GDP.”
Bharat Gupta, Head of Corporate Affairs, Sterlite Technologies

“Data is the fuel to Wi-Fi. To quote Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, from the time humanity exists and up till 2003, human beings have created 5 exabyte of data. And in 2010, 5 exabyte of data was being generated and consumed every 5-10 minutes. Majority of this data is consumed through smartphones linked to the mobility network, which then is offloaded on the home or enterprise Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi has somewhat lost its voice in India. An economic value needs to be attributed to Wi-Fi in its contribution to the applications of public, residential, enterprise, device manufacturing, cellular network, and carriers. According to studies, the contribution of Wi-Fi to India’s GDP is USD 10 billion per annum, and USD 500 billion to the US economy, poised to reach USD 1000 billion in the next 5 years.

Developed countries have figured out a way to attribute a specific value to Wi-Fi and its impact on the economy. This evaluation is required in India too so that the impact can be assessed and communicated to its ecosystem.

NDCP 2018 had planned for 10 million public Wi-Fi hotspots by 2022, and specific targets set via the National Broadband Mission, Jan Wi-Fi, and Nagar Net. Working in the direction to achieve these targets in the coming 2-3 years will be more than sufficient in the current scenario. It will involve both the government and corporate sector. The pace is too slow and needs to be expedited.”
N.K Panda–Head Convergence Business–Sterlite Power & Managing Director, MTCIL (JV–Maharashtra State Transco & Sterlite)

“The question that is Wi-Fi a necessity, is no longer relevant. With COVID-19 having established that workplace is where one is, Wi-Fi has been established as the backbone for economic development, social existence, and perhaps the existence of the civilization. The users are increasingly defining how fast should fast be.

One of the Ericsson Mobility reports have stated that the traffic has surged from 20 percent to 100 percent in the last 4 months and 70-75 percent has transitioned to Wi-Fi. A family of four members with four or five devices are seeking 30 Mbps speed, and that is the new normal.

A big push and dramatic acceleration of Wi-Fi is expected. Organizations and governments need to come out of the COVID-19 mode and think in terms of the next generation, not the legacy. There will be a thirst and demand for fibre-like speeds and for gigabyte and megabyte solutions.

There is an opportunity for India here, not just of a lifetime but of an entire generation. We need to think in terms of LAN with WAN convergence, Wi-Fi 6 giving multi-gigabyte access and the backbone being delivered wirelessly with fibre-like speeds, thanks to license-free V-band and lightly licensed E-band.

The costs are coming down quite rapidly and the RoI might surprise many. Think in terms of ‘the co-existence of both, 5G and Wi-Fi. 75 percent of the world’s traffic is forecast to ride on Wi-Fi, while 5G will still be relevant. High-density and urban cities will go wireless and fibre will co-exist. For instance, many of the 60 GHz conversations our company is having in Malaysia with customers are with fibre operators.”
Himanshu Motial, Regional Vice President Sales at Cambium Networks, Singapore

“The economic value of Wi-Fi 6 is not in producer and consumer surplus alone, but also the trickle-down benefits. India’s 650,000 villages require 10 million hotspots. The increase from the existing 100,000 to 10 million Wi-Fi hotspots translates to a 100 percent growth, which requires huge spectrum, and Wi-Fi could provide the answer. If spectrum is unlicensed, its value multiplies by 1000 times. Unlicensing also provides several value-additions and flexibility. And Wi-Fi 6 gains speed as two technologies come into play, MU-MIMO and OFDMA and that is where it will bring opportunity, especially in rural India.”
Satyen Gupta, Chairman of the Board, Bluetown India and BIMSTEC, South Asia


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