V-band must be delicensed and the E-band allocated for backhaul
Though it is clear the government needs to move fast on making available the E- and V-bands, it appears this may not happen in a hurry. The government is being cautious since people are already talking about this potentially being a Rs 12 lakh crore scam as compared the Rs 1.76 lakh crore top estimate for the Raja scam. And, according to Mint, mobile phone operators are not too keen on delicencing either of the bands as they think this will allow anyone to start ‘access’ services like the ones they offer today. While the government is being too cautious, the telcos are being short-sighted, and the greater the delay, the worse it is for the industry.
The E-band allows a much higher amount of data to be hauled to/away from towers than conventional microwave links, so it is critical if the speed of mobile internet has to rise. Theoretically, the E-band can be used to provide ‘access’ services, but since the signals on this band attenuate very quickly, someone who tries to set up a mobile ‘access’ network to rival that of an existing telco operating in the 800/900/1800/2100/2400 MHz band will need around 75 times more towers, assuming Wi-Fi/mobile devices are built to operate on this band. Existing ISPs will use the E-band to offer higher-quality broadband, but they also pay the same revenue share as telcos.
The V-band attenuates even faster, and the signal probably cannot be carried for more than 300-400 metres, making it totally unsuitable as ‘access’ spectrum. But, unlike the conventional Wi-Fi, the V-band allows a carrier size that is 50-100 times larger, making it ideal for truly amazing speeds on Wi-Fi, within a building or a limited geographical area. Take the case of a person getting, say, a 1 GB per second speed on her fibre network at home—the current Wi-Fi capability will not allow her to get even a fraction of this speed, but a device connected to a V-band-based Wi-Fi will. Ideally, then, the government should simply delicence the V-band so that it can be used for high-speed Wi-Fi by anyone. The existing 2400MHz band should be worth `2.1 lakh crore based on current prices—the 2300/2500MHz bands cost Rs 1,650 crore per MHz—but it is available to everyone for free, and no one has called this a scam.
The E-band, on the other hand, should be allocated to telcos in the same way microwave is allocated for backhaul—with this, the speed of 4G and 5G networks will improve dramatically. Since telcos have already paid for the 2G/3G/4G spectrum and the E-band is just meant to make that more efficient, allocating it to telcos for free is perfectly all right.