Making broadband affordable for all

Feb 02 2013, 02:25 IST
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Summary“Wireless communication is plagued by a shortage of space for new services. As the new regions of the radio spectrum have been opened to practical operation, commerce and industry have found more than enough uses to crowd them.”

Broadband provided through licensed spectrum is unaffordable for 61% of the world’s population, and much more in India. More efficient use of unlicensed spectrum, coupled with other innovations being explored abroad, will go a long way in making broadband internet cheaper

“Wireless communication is plagued by a shortage of space for new services. As the new regions of the radio spectrum have been opened to practical operation, commerce and industry have found more than enough uses to crowd them.”

Uniquely, India has more than 96% wireless connections and only less than 4% fixed telephone lines. We have the second-largest number of mobile phones in the world, operating on scarce licensed spectrum. We also have around the highest number of TV channels, and also cabled, DTH and normal terrestrial TVs. We are now aspiring to become the largest broadband country, which will predominately need to work on scarce spectrum. The problem is further complicated by the spectrum being inefficiently distributed to a large number of operators. The story does not end here.

We sit in a region with external and internal terrorism, thus necessitating huge amounts of spectrum to be allotted to security forces, who also have inefficient and outdated equipment, guzzling spectrum. Anyone would think that the statement at the start of this piece was written for Indian spectrum management today. Surprisingly, the statement was made in a report of the 1952 United States Joint Technical Advisory Committee. The spectrum shortage was felt when colour TVs were launched in the US; the service became very popular and a spectrum guzzler. Even in the US, mobile telephony came 30-35 years later. The US and many other developed countries have been working on ways of efficient spectrum management since then.

We did not have serious problems on this count, though. We launched the colour TV 30 years after the US did, in 1982, at the advent of Asian Games. The minister of Information and Broadcasting, Vasant Sathe staked his political career for this launch, much against the wishes of Bollywood, which thought films would then become unpopular. It is another matter that Bollywood has been the biggest gainer from this bold step. We also launched mobile phones 30 years after it was launched in advanced countries. Till then, it was thought inappropriate technology, like colour TVs, for the poor Indian. Later, after a couple of regulatory initiatives, mobiles became cheaper than fixed telephones. Today,

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