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IIT Bombay project connects 13 villages over TV white space


Students from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay have developed a proof-of-concept network which relies on TV white space for transferring information, reports Motherboard. The first instance of the mesh-network has been implemented at Khamloli in Maharashtra, around 100 km from the IIT.

The testbed network provides broadband in 13 villages or hamlets, with each village typically in the range of 5 km of Khamloli. The project has been deployed over 25 sqkm, with 1 base station at Khamloli which connects to 10 client stations, which subsequently connect to WiFi hotspots to provide internet access. The project users the 470-590 MHz ultra high frequency band which can typically operate at the range of 1-5 km. The students have published a paper with further details about the project here.

The students’ report mentions that the ultra high frequency (UHF) nodes used to connect villages require very little power, and can be powered by battery or solar energy. As of now, the node at Khamloli is located at the height of 30 meters, to provide line of sight to other access nodes, with client stations positioned 3-4 meters above ground. Overall, the team achieved an average speed of 5-8 Mbps over 6.7 km with a latency of 2-15ms, and 11-17 Mbps over 2.3 km with a latency of 2-11ms.

Other than the managing the technical aspects, the team has also trained around 60 villagers to be ‘e-sevaks’, to help other villagers use internet services for paying bills, booking tickets etc. These e-sevaks are provided with tablets, and are available for 3 hours a day at internet access kiosks set up in the villages. Interestingly, an ATM has also been set up is one of the villages which connects to its servers using the white space internet service.

Microsoft broadband: In September last year, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced that the company would provide ‘low-cost broadband technology’ to 500,000 villages in India. At the time, the company said that it would provide internet connectivity through the TV white space, for connecting villages and possibly setting up emergency broadband networks in times of disaster recovery situations.

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

MediaNama’s take: The students have done a fine job in executing a proof-of-concept testbed for TV white spaces. However, to implement on a large scale, such a project would require TV white spaces to be license free. The paper suggests the government implement a ‘’license-exempt registered-shared-access’’ policy, letting anyone broadcast over the frequency using low power transmissions.

Additionally, the base station will require some internet connectivity to distribute it further, making it an ideal partner for a project like BharatNet, which intends to connect all rural areas with broadband connectivity. However, given the licensing requirements, the government’s plan to charge for this spectrum and other red tape issues in the country, we expect it will be a while before private players, or even the government, start implementing such projects.

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