7 Oct 2014

Freeing Up Spectrum

India faces a shortage of spectrum. Calls are dropped all the time, and Internet speeds are low, even on LTE, for the less than 1% of mobile users who are on LTE. Heck, only around 3% of mobile users are on 3G. And deploying LTE requires spectrum.

India should adopt a more automatic policy for freeing up spectrum. Let’s first talk about Wifi. If a certain frequency band is permitted for Wifi in any country, it should automatically be permitted in India. Any Wifi device that’s legal to use in any country of the world should automatically be legal to import, manufacture and use in India. This covers laptops, phones, tablets, Wifi routers, and so on.

Let the organisations who squat on that spectrum in India figure out how to deal with interference from Wifi, or move their usage to another, licensed band. After all, we’re not talking individuals here, but organisations like government agencies, who’re currently using one licensed band, and can move to another. Or deal with interference.

This way, we can free up a lot of spectrum for Wifi, overnight. Don’t get into a bureaucratic and political process that takes years, and is at best not meritocratic and at worst prone to a corruption on a breaktaking scale. Bypass all that. Free up the spectrum overnight.

This means that India will have more spectrum than any other country. In fact, it will have the union of frequencies that are used in all other countries.

Not only will this proposal free up spectrum overnight, but it will free it up in bands that are already supported by devices in the market, as opposed to requiring new devices.

For example, LTE in India has been slow to take off, even two years after its launch, and even in cities where the network exists, because it uses a different technology (TD-LTE) from most of the LTE networks in the world (FD-LTE), and so most phones that support LTE don’t support it in India. So, freeing up spectrum that requires new devices to be deployed is nowhere as useful as freeing up spectrum that already enjoys massive device and ecosystem support.

Permitting Wifi to use frequencies that it may use in other countries means that we can benefit from existing devices that are built to use those frequencies.

This automatic approval route also means that India, which is slow to move forward when it comes to government decision-making, will by definition move at the fastest speed of all countries. If there’s some country in the world with an efficient government that quickly makes a new frequency band available for Wifi, and devices are built to this band, those devices can immediately start being sold in India, rather than waiting for years for the Indian government to free up more spectrum.

So, all frequencies used for Wifi, as listed in this wikipedia page, will immediately start being used in India.

This also applies to cellular in addition to Wifi. If it’s legal to manufacture or sell a phone or cellular equipment that uses a particular frequency or technology or power level in any country of the world, it should immediately be legal in India.

This will kickstart wireless networking in India, both Wifi and cellular. It will solve our spectrum crunch overnight, get rid of corruption and delays and uncertainty, and put India at the head of the spectrum race, with more spectrum than any other country, and in fact with the union of frequencies available in all countries of the world. We’ll also have great device support, since any device sold in any country will also work in India. And it will guarantee that India will be at the head of the race for ever, not just at one point in time, since whenever any country permits a frequency band to be used, it will automatically become legal in India as well.

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