At a time when the telecom companies are demanding the spectrum in 6 GHz band, experts said their argument that such spectrum is not crucial for Wi-Fi and therefore should be licensed to telcos, is misleading.
Reasons cited by experts and some internet service providers to free 6 GHz spectrum include scope for improved Wi-Fi speeds with such spectrum and new Wi-Fi 6E technology, boost to government’s internet accessibility programme, affordability of internet services in far flung areas, business opportunities of local gear makers and easy co-existence with telcos’ mobile services, among others.
The argument backing spectrum for Wi-Fi comes after the telecom operators through their representative, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), said last week that the spectrum is critical for cost-effective rollout of the 5G network and the existing delicensed spectrum in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, is more than adequate for meeting the needs for Wi-Fi connectivity.
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De-licensing of spectrum means opening of spectrum bands freely by the government that can be used by operators and consumers without the need of permission to offer services.
“The spectrum in the 6 GHz band is important for Wi-Fi as along with 6E technology it would overcome the loopholes mostly related to network congestion with the existing Wi-Fi technologies. Most importantly, it would also complement the government’s PM Wani project for broadband through public Wi-Fi hotspots,” said Satya N Gupta, former principal advisor at the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).
The 6 GHz band includes the spectrum in the range of 5.9-7.1 GHz. According to National Frequency Allocation Plan 2022, the spectrum in the band is allocated for fixed satellite and mobile services.
According to Gupta, the delicensing of spectrum would not come at a loss to telecom operators but benefit them in the sense that they can use mobile data offload technology that would save them costs.
Mobile data offloading means shifting of network load by telecom operators to unlicensed spectrum in areas where Wi-Fi hotspots are available. Simply put, if a user on mobile data enters an area where a Wi-Fi hotspot is there, telcos can easily shift the data load to that Wi-Fi through mobile data offloading and can save its licensed spectrum without any reduction in charges.
While batting for licensing of the 6 GHz spectrum, telcos said that Indian users spent least time on Wi-Fi, thereby indicating that cellular networks remain the preferred source of connectivity.
Further, the telcos also raised the issue of end-to-end security, and limited mobility support of Wi-Fi.
“This is misleading on part of telcos to say that cellular networks are preferred by users as with work from home nearly 70% of data users pass through Wi-Fi on their laptops and other devices,” an executive of an internet service provider said, adding that if the band is licensed to telcos, then they would not be able to offer improved fixed-broadband services to the consumers.
“From the point of security, there is no difference between Wi-Fi network and that of telcos. In fact, a security layer can be introduced in the Wi-Fi network to make it more secure,” another executive said, adding that internet issues while moving from one place to another will be resolved with more open Wi-Fi hotspots.
Apart from this, with licensing of the spectrum to telcos, the local gear makers such as HFCL etc, might see no demand for their Wi-Fi products designed according to upcoming technologies like 6E, some experts said.
Currently, telcos including Jio and Airtel obtain a larger chunk of the fixed broadband subscriber base, which stands at 27.5 million. Share of other internet service providers in the market is less.
Lately, industry bodies like ITU-APT Foundation of India (IAFI) have been pushing for delicensing the 6 GHz band for Wi-Fi usage.
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“Wi-Fi using the 6 GHz radio band opens up over 1 GHz of extra bandwidth, a boon for high congestion. This bandwidth is split into 14 channels of 80 MHz each each or seven channels of 160 MHz each,” IAFI had said in a letter to communications minister Ashwini Vaishnaw in November 2021.
Some analysts said since the band can easily co-exist between the Wi-Fi and telcos network, the regulator and the government should hold consultations and come up with a middle path, instead of giving the band solely to telcos.