The V-band conundrum

October 27, 2020 6:50 AM

Unlicense 57-64 GHz for both indoor and outdoor usage and modify NFAP 2020 to allow release of 64-71 GHz band under light-touch regulation to be assigned on a link-by-link basis for backhaul

We have the digital foundations to execute this. What is required is bold, innovative thinking, reprioritising and even more critically important execution.We have the digital foundations to execute this. What is required is bold, innovative thinking, reprioritising and even more critically important execution.

By V Sridhar

While there has been intense lobbying by the internet firms and associated organisations to delicense the V-band, telcos have opposing views, requiring it to be allotted on exclusive licensed basis. The V-band (57-71 GHz) is suitable for short-range transmission. It is typically split into two sets of frequencies: 57-64 GHz and 64-71 GHz. While some countries have allowed V-band for use by telcos and ISPs in both the sets, others have restricted to the lower band of 57-64 GHz. However, on both the sets, the bandwidth is 7 GHz and hence provides large capacities. This band can be used both for point-to-point and point-to-multipoint configuration, making it an interesting case study.

Wireless access systems in this 60 GHz band in unlicensed mode have been developed through a series of amendments in IEEE 802.11 protocols (notably .ad and .ay), and adopted by the Wireless Gigabit Alliance (WiGig) to provide Gigabit speed ‘wireless fibre’. The above developments have enabled firms to innovate around this very important band to offer a wide variety of solutions. Internet companies such as Facebook and Google have been working on technologies using WiGig standards to deploy high-speed public networks.

On the other hand, telcos lobby for licensing V-band for high-powered line-of-sight point-to-point links that can act as high-speed backhaul. In India, deployment of optic fibre backhaul is very poor, and hence their interest to control this backhaul capacity and not be taken away by competing internet firms. If unlicensed, then this critical element of the network can be leveraged by unlicensed internet firms to provide bandwidth consuming content as a close substitute to telcos’ offerings.

Ofcom, the UK telecom regulator, after its regulatory impact assessment (RIA) of V-band, opted for licence-exempt authorisation method. European countries such as Austria, Belgium, Poland, Slovakia and Spain—along with China, Korea, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand—have unlicensed the V-band. The US Federal Communications Commission, through a number of regulatory directives, has released spectrum in 57-71 GHz for licence-exempt use.

Trai initiated consultation on V and E bands way back in 2014. While Trai initially recommended that both E-band and V-band should be opened with ‘light-touch regulation’ and allotment should be on a ‘link-to-link basis’, it subsequently (in 2015) opined that the spectrum band 57-64 GHz should be delicensed. In the National Frequency Allocation Plan (NFAP) 2020 in IND 37 amendment, it is noted that the band 57-64 GHz may be used for high-density point-to-point/multipoint links and other access applications.

The case of V-band is an interesting one as this band is suitable both for local access and backhaul. Access spectrum in India is always auctioned after the Supreme Court order in 2012, thus necessitating the policymakers to assign the spectrum for a fee instead of unlicensing it. On the other hand, the global norm is to make this band licence-exempt for proliferation of WiGig to provide large access capacities.

One way to circumvent this problem and arrive at via media solution is to do the following:
1. Unlicense 57-64 GHz for both indoor and outdoor usage as access spectrum:
—Since this spectrum is mainly intended for short distances of hundreds of meters due to its propagation characteristics, it is less amenable for backhaul and hence shall be released for access. Access can be both for Wi-Fi as well as wireless local loop with directional beams as specified in IEEE 801.11 ay;
—This will enable the proliferation of WiGig networks and complement the pathetic wired local loop infrastructure in the country.

2. Enable through modification of the NFAP 2020, release of 64-71 GHz band under light-touch regulation that shall be assigned on a link-by-link basis for backhaul. The FCC, in its order in 2016, noted that 64-71 GHz band would effectively be able to provide longer range and higher data throughput, as these levels are not as attenuated by oxygen absorption.

By enacting a spectrum policy as above, the government can, while fulfilling its obligations to assign scarce resource equitably, create the required access bandwidth for deployment of high-capacity networks in the country.

(This article is an extract from the author’s book ‘Emerging ICT Policies and Regulations: Roadmap to Digital Economies’, by Springer Nature)

(The author is professor, IIIT Bangalore)

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