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IIT Madras & Nokia to look at unlicensed spectrum for rural internet connectivity


Indian government engineering college IIT Madras has tied up with Nokia under a 3 year partnership to create solutions to enhance broadband connectivity in rural India. Nokia will fund and offer tech expertise for research at IITM’s Center of Excellence for Wireless Technology (CEWiT) and explore using unlicensed spectrum to offer cheap broadband connectivity to remote rural areas. Under this initiative CEWiT will verify WiFi broadband feasibility of unlicensed spectrum radio access technology for internet connectivity.

Lukup Media, an on demand TV and ad platform, which received a Unified License to launch data, TV, and video on demand services through a single connection in the country, also launched a 1 Gbps wireless solution called Lightup to transmit data. However, this is more of a personal internet connection than one for the public. Lightup will operate outside of the licensed spectrum to offer connectivity.

Slow progress with BharatNet
The government’s ambitious BharatNet project, which has been in the pipeline for 5 years now, has laid optical fibre in 36,738 gram panchayats till 17 January. Since its launch in 2011, the project which aimed to cover 250,000 villages in 3 years, only managed to pilot in Idukki in January 2015.

Other initiatives to bring internet to the masses:

– In November, Facebook and BSNL entered into a partnership to create 100 WiFi hotspots in rural areas in India. Facebook planned to invest Rs 5 crore per year to buy bandwidth from BSNL in this joint venture and rollout by 31 December 2015, but that does seem to have happened yet. In July, Facebook was working on delivering internet globally via a combination of drones, satellites and lasers.

– In September last year, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced that Microsoft would provide ‘low-cost broadband technology’ to 500,000 villages in India, for which it would partner with the Indian Government under the Digital India program. Specifically, Microsoft is looking at internet connectivity through the TV white space which is licensed but unutilised TV band spectrum and has a much larger range than WiFi.

– OneWeb, which raised $500 million from Bharti Enterprises, Virgin Atlantic and other investors in June last year, planned to provide high speed internet access globally via 648 satellites intended to launch by 2019.

– In February last year, Google had said it was looking to bring Project Loon, its balloon powered Internet service to India, which got an in-principle approval from the Indian government for running a pilot in December. (Also read: A lowdown of the Google for India event from December)

– In September, Google tied up with the Indian Railways and RailTel to provide high speed WiFi coverage in 400 stations across India, the first of which was deployed at Mumbai Central last month. Google mentions that it will look to cover 100 of the busiest stations by this year end, with the goal of eventually covering 400 stations.

Also read: Govt aims for 50% digital literacy in 3 years; ambitious but required

Image Credit: Arrano under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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