To realise the promise of the 60 GHz band and Short Range Devices, India should delicense the band and avoid mandates on specific channelisation
Most people are unaware of the multiple benefits we get from the growing number of short-range devices (SRDs) in our lives. An SRD is a radio-frequency transmitter device used in telecommunication to transmit information without harmful interference to other radio equipment. Short-range wireless technologies include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Near-Field Communication (NFC), Ultra-wideband (UWB) and IEEE 802.15.4. Technological developments in radio—wideband and UWB, medical diagnostics, RFID, usage, telemetry and radar—led to the surge in applications that can leverage and use SRDs in multiple fields.
Some of the common applications of SRDs in day-to-day life include telecommand, telemetry, voice and video applications, wireless audio applications, railway applications, road transport and traffic telematics, alarms, inductive applications, radio microphones, RF identification systems, ultra-low power active medical implant, among many others.
India has recognised the value of SRDs and commonly-used frequencies in the NFAP-2018. It is now time to accelerate adoption and detail specifics in terms of spectrum, power levels, and possible applications to enable industry and users to work hand-in-hand and bring it to the market. For this, we need the 60Hz band that has 7GHz of bandwidth and offers unmatched capacity compared with lower frequency spectrum, which sets it apart from other high frequency bands. Multiple oxygen-absorption lines merge to form a single, broad absorption band. Atmospheric absorption peaks around 16dB per kilometre at band centre, and exceeds 10 dB per kilometre across 86% of the band. The high oxygen absorption reduces the need for active spectrum management. High oxygen attenuation and narrow beams reduce interference between links, making it particularly suited for the uncoordinated operation. The high bandwidth allows for wide channels and enables high throughputs. These characteristics render the band unsuitable for traditional multi-kilometre fixed links, but suitable for higher capacity, lower-coverage applications.
So, operating effectively in higher bands requires more devices at short ranges. This makes it essential to combine the two. The spectrum band in the 57-64GHz is attractive for high capacity transmissions over short distances.
As lower-frequency bands are cramped, higher frequencies are more suitable for SRD applications. The large bandwidth allows for wide channelisation (e.g. 2.16 GHz in 802.11ad) and, hence supports high-speed links with 10 Gbps and higher data rates.
The combination of the 60GHz spectrum and SRDs will create an explosion of applications; it will enable new technology and business model opportunities for a variety of established and emerging ecosystem players. It will enhance the value of wireline infrastructure and help improve the performance of cellular services. The availability of delicensed spectrum helps support the provision of affordable services to new geographies and populations, and help in expansion of services into un-served and underserved communities. The combination could help transform India into a “digitally empowered society and knowledge economy” as envisioned by the Digital India Programme.
The role of regulators and policymakers is pivotal; else, there is a risk of market fragmentation and the appearance of uncoordinated categories. In a dense environment, many links are expected to operate in close proximity. Because of the high rate of oxygen absorption and corresponding signal attenuation, regulators are moving forward with a license-exempt framework for the V-band. It is noteworthy that many national administrations including Germany, Austria, Belgium, the UK, China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Australia, Singapore, Switzerland, Malaysia, New Zealand, the US, Canada, Brazil, and South Africa have delicensed the 60 GHz band for many years and many have not imposed specific channelisation plans. This has triggered technology innovation and ecosystem growth. This process is similar to the global Wi-Fi story, where the use of unlicensed 2.4 and 5GHz bands enabled a massive ecosystem around Wi-Fi and drove down costs dramatically. To unleash the full potential of the 60 GHz band and SRDs, India should delicense the 60GHz band and avoid mandates on specific channelisation. This will allow technology developers and connectivity providers to deliver high-speed backbone services at very low cost and enable the proliferation of affordable broadband across India.
Devices must adhere to respective regulatory compliance standards. The accompanying graphic gives a consolidated view of different countries. Applications listed are derived from ITU and other standardisation bodies.
Let us look at two examples of industry innovations in SRDs that show us how the industry is gearing up to meet the requirements of the various applications by developing the right hardware and software. One is the Industrial mmWave Sensor IWR (from a well-known semi-conductor and ICs company). This is an integrated single-chip sensor capable of operation in the 60 to 64GHz band. It enables unprecedented levels of integration in an extremely small form factor. The device is an ideal solution for low power, self-monitored, ultra-accurate radar systems in the industrial space. The second example is RF transceivers from a microelectronics company made in the unlicensed 60GHz band that offers new opportunities for short-range contactless connectivity by enabling unprecedented multi-Gigabit data rates. The product provides transfer speeds up to 6Gbps and very low power consumption. It has a very small form factor to make it ideally suited for a wide range of applications in personal electronics, industrial and computer peripherals. As India focuses on atmanirbharta, it needs to take cognisance of developments in technology and applications and adapt accordingly to bring benefits to end-users. The 60GHz spectrum band, due to its unique characteristic of oxygen molecular absorption, lends itself to being made unlicensed. This will spur developments in SRD applications.
Trai has recommended the delicensing of 60 GHz band for both indoor and outdoor-based application, and DoT should permit SRDs proliferation by earliest adoption of the Trai recommendation. This opportunity will allow India to benefit from the mass-scale SRD consumer equipment, a market that is already growing in other countries and changing the landscape of digital infrastructure and services.
The author is Hon Fellow of IET (London) and president of Broadband India Forum. Views are personal
With research inputs by Garima Kapoor