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India’s spectrum conundrums

The word conundrum literally means an intricate problem that is difficult to deal with. That single word describes the dilemma that India’s spectrum regulators are facing. But are the issues really that difficult or we are missing the big picture? Two of such spectrum issues – Wi-Fi or unlicensed spectrum in 6GHz band and dedicated spectrum for private broadband issues are really simple and have easy solutions when considered from a national perspective.

Wi-Fi or unlicensed spectrum in 6GHz band
Countries around the world are opening critical new frequencies for shared and local area use, instead of auctioning these to individual operator’s exclusive use. This shift is partly because higher frequencies support massive data speeds at short range and less interference farther away. India has good reason to open new bands, as has been done by many countries around the world. Opening of such new frequency bands will open huge market potential in India for innovation, industrial growth, and exports.

Communication has become a life-line for connecting people when social distancing/physical isolation has become imperative due to global pandemic caused by the Covid-19 menace. Wi-Fi already carries more than half of the internet traffic, and offloading mobile data traffic to Wi-Fi was critical support for our mobile cellular networks from being overwhelmed during the Covid-19 pandemic, but is getting choked due to limited unlicensed spectrum. This is particularly true for India with high population density and overwhelming dependence on Wi-Fi. However, some vested lobbies in India are opposed to opening up of the unlicensed spectrum in India. It is, therefore, necessary to counter such lobbies with detailed consumer, technical, and economic justifications to help Indian government take the right decisions.

Countries, including the US, Canada, Brazil, Chile, South Korea, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia, have already delicensed the new 6GHz Wi-Fi, while continuing to share the same with satellites. In addition, several countries in the EU have delicensed the lower part of 6GHz for Wi-Fi in 5.925–6.425 GHz. Almost 80 countries, including Australia, Japan, and the 27 members of the EU, have delicensed the V band. The delicensing of the 6GHz band is continuing.

Delicensing of 6GHz band for Wi-Fi will open new opportunities for innovators and manufacturers to develop products and technologies and also increase opportunities for smart home and industrial products being manufactured in India for export markets.

6GHz band is currently extensively used by satellites for uplinking of broadcasting channels as well as by VSAT for providing data connectivity. Therefore, it will not be possible to use this band to be auctioned for licensed mobile operators. However, as various studies have shown, this band could be shared by indoor-only low-power Wi-Fi routers on an opportunistic basis. Since the band cannot be auctioned, delicensing it for low-power use will not cause any revenue loss to the government. On the other hand, this move will add huge economic benefit to the economy and help increase the GDP. In addition, this move will also support Atmanirbhar India as most of the Wi-Fi routers are fully made in the country.

Dedicated spectrum for captive industrial and enterprises
The industrial competitive advantage of India in the post Covid-19 era depends on the integration of IT to build automation, agility, and intelligence across key manu­facturing sectors. Today’s industries generate and consume a huge amount of data in manufacturing, supply chains, and ancillaries, and it is critical that this data is moved and processed at extremely high speeds in real time with minimum latency as well as maximum privacy to harness the advantages of digital technologies. The emergence of ultrafast 5G technology in higher-frequency bands provides manu­facturers with the much-needed reliable connectivity solutions, enabling critical communications for wireless control of machines and manufacturing robots, and this will unlock the full potential of Industry 4.0.

Many countries have already provided spectrum dedicated for private 5G to address connectivity needs of a range of industries, including diverse segments of the economy with diverse needs.

The business value resulting from manufacturing use cases, running on improved connectivity, could generate from USD 400 billion to USD 650 billion of GDP impact globally. That is because the speed, latency, and device density of the high-band 5G connectivity and private networks can support manufacturing automation and numerous high-impact applications. It is thus evident that India must provide dedicated spectrum for private and captive industrial and enterprise 5G networks.

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