Commercial deployment of Internet (or any other services) using TV white spaces in the 470-698MHz spectrum band will not be allowed through de-licensing to any player, except for research purposes, according to DoT, reports The Hindu. The direction comes a month after telecom lobby body COAI asked the DoT to limit allocation of white spaces to licensed players only. Creating an entry for specific players through the use of de-licensed white spaces will create distortion in the market and cause “considerable amount of loss to the exchequer, COAI said in a letter to DoT.

However, DoT clarified that unutilized white spaces will soon be auctioned for licensed players once the Centre decides on pricing, and after its sure that the ecosystem is developed for this band.

“It is clarified that the frequency authorisations are not for regular/commercial use of TVWS in India. It may be further noted that the frequency allocation for TVWS experiment has not been made with any reference to any particular technology,” said DoT in reply to COAI.

Setback for Microsoft and Google projects

The direction from DoT comes as a blow to Microsoft and Google who have been piloting use of white spaces for providing internet connectivity in rural reaches.

In July last year, Microsoft India got approval by the IT ministry to conduct research on utilizing white spaces for providing internet in rural areas. By November 2015, Microsoft’s pilot was successfully being tested  in Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh and it planned to extend the pilot in Varanasi as well. However, IT minsiter, Ravi Shankar Prasad, told ET that spectrum “will only be provided through auction and that no exceptions will be made”, even when Microsoft said that its not looking to become an ISP, but rather provide “cheap internet connectivity to remote areas”.

On the other hand, Google also got an in-princple approval from the Indian government in December 2015 for running a pilot version of Project Loon that uses white spaces to beam internet through weather balloons. However, telecom minister RS Prasad had expressed concern that Google’s Project Loon will interfere with existing telecom spectrum. In March, Google was reportedly in talks with Indian telcos including BSNL to help launch Project Loon in India, but its seems like none of these projects will go live anytime soon in India.

Other projects utilizing White Spaces in India for broadband

Apart from big players like Microsoft and Google, educational institutions and universities have also been testing the use of TV White Spaces in the 470-698 MHz band for the deployment of broadband. The DoT’s current stance of not de-licensing unutilized white spaces will further put the following projects on hold:

-An IIT Bombay project wherein students had developed a proof-of-concept network, which relies on TV white space for transferring information. The mesh-network was implemented at Khamloli in Maharashtra, around 100 km from the IIT. Further details about the project here.

-A joint IIT Madras and Nokia partnership, which aimed to test use of unlicensed spectrum to offer cheap broadband connectivity in remote rural areas, will also face a setback if DoT won’t release unutilized spectrum to non-licensed players.

MediaNama’s Take: The DoT’s stance of not releasing unutilized white spaces seems to come after the lobby body COAI pressurized it stating that “unlicensed usage of devices” could cause inferences in the network. However, note that white spaces are successfully in use to deploy broadband among developing counties like South Africa, as well as developed countries like US and UK. Adequate testing and research on using white spaces without interfering in a broadcaster’s network or without congestion is the need of the hour in India; the DoT should have instead evaluated use of unutilized spectrum rather than siding with lobbying associations.

Image Credit: Wikipedia user Leon Brooks under Public Domain

Disclaimer: Microsoft is an advertiser with MediaNama