Surf White -- for a telecom revolution!

Rural broadband in India,  is set for a makeover,  courtesy  TV White Space technology
IndiaTechOnline Special Focus
October 26 2015: India is poised to embark on a unique combo  of  cutting edge technology and jugaad (frugal innovation) that may finally bring the garam hava of Internet connectivity to  some 5 lakh rural reaches.  
And an international  summit  on Digital India that opens in Delhi  today ( October 26) may allay the doubts that  many  telecom companies still  have,  about  this technology, even as the  new state of Andhra Pradesh, shrugs them off to bring low-cost broadband to one  trial district -- Srikakulam .
The name of the game is TV White Spaces ---   frequencies allocated to a  TV broadcaster  between radio bands,  usually to prevent interference.  The changeover from analogue  to digital TV in India which  is to be completed by December this year,   will free up a lot of such  spaces in the spectrum. These unused airways can be used for existing technologies like Wi-Fi to ride piggy back and  provide  much needed connectivity,   to vast   areas that are presently without Internet And  here's the bonus: while  the Wi-Fi  we know,   is good  only for  tens of metres, White Space Wi-Fi can travel tens of kms. What's more,   it is not affected by hillocks and other features, while mobile technologies like 3G,  need a clear line of sight.  We don't pay anyone for setting up a WiFi hotspot in our home. Likewise TV White Space which  world-wide, is  a  free-to-use,   unlicensed  band.  
The WhiteSpace Alliance a global  industry body which evangelizes sharing such  unutilized spectrum ( and is steering  the Delhi summit ), joined  the  CMAI Association and IIT Bombay, earlier this year, to  draw up a roadmap to bring the benefits of a  'Digital India'  to rural areas.  
Andhra leads
Andhra Pradesh   Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu,  who in an earlier tenure,  was instrumental in bringing Microsoft to Hyderabad, was quick to invite the same company to help him  empower all the rural areas of the new state with White Space-enabled  Net.   The pilot is already off the ground,  linking   four educational institutions in Srikalulam district:  Singupuram, Fareedapeta,  Sativada   with the  base station located in the Zilla Parishad High School at Voppangi. 
After the US visit of Prime Minister Modi, Microsoft offered to harness TV White Spaces  among other technologies to connect 500,000 villages in India.  This has irked  some Indian cellular operators  who fear that  giving away vast swathes of unlicensed spectrum  will affect their licensed business. Not so, say   global agencies and governments  like India who have limited spectrum and unlimited bandwidth requirements.
 "Throw competition at the problem", suggests  H. Nwana,   Executive Director of the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance,  a global organization that works for  more efficient spectrum utilization  to address the global hunger for connectivity, "Commercial cellular telecom networks like 3G and 4G cannot by themselves satisfy the world's need.  Outside the metros, they need to compete with Wi-Fi and  WRAN -- Wireless Regional Area Networks --  which use TV White spaces."  Dr Nwana,  a former  spectrum regulator of UK, spoke to IndiaTechOnline shortly before be left to join the Delhi Summit. He  suggests a mantra: "Wi-Fi should be the right of every citizen -- not 3G!"

All chip shape!  A made-in-India solution for rural Internet
Having decided to harness   unlicensed TV white spaces for  rural connectivity, India need not look afar for the tools to make it happen.  Bangalore-based  Saankhya  Labs, a leader in software radio solutions, has just rolled out the world's first TV Whitespace   single chip radio module .
Called Pruthvi, the  stamp-sized chip  will bring  internet to rural  houses that can receive a TV signal, but are otherwise  outside  mobile phone or telecom  coverage.  "At the heart of Pruthvi are a bunch of Digital Signal Processors ,  a specialized class of CPUs conceived, designed and implemented in India", informs Sankhya labs'  co-founder-CEO Parag Naik.
While the chip goes into the  users'  modems,  it also fuels  the base stations that send out the Internet signals.   The Saankhya solution called Meghdoot  is being field-tested by   IIIT Hyderabad and  the IITs in Delhi and Bombay. It  will likely form part of the rollout  in Srikalulam.  See Image of the Day for the people who made  it happen at Saankhya
Global  Scene
The harnessing of TV White Spaces for  offering  unlicensed and essentially free  WiFi signals ,  was first tried in the US, followed by UK, Canada  and Singapore. Over the last 2 years,  experimental  Internet connectivity  over white spaces  has  come to many African  countries  including  Ghana, Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania, South Africa and Kenya, with Microsoft steering many of the pilots before handing them over to local providers.  Unlike India, TV itself  is not very thick on the ground, which places  less  white space at the disposal of secondary users  like White Space WiFi. Experts say the potential in India is much higher due to the ubiquity of TV.
Indian face of WhiteSpace
The  WhiteSpace Alliance  (WSA) which globally evangelizes  using underused TV spectrum for Internet,   is steered by  its Chairman for a decade now, Dr Apurva  N. Modi  who also heads the  IEEE working group which drew up the relevant standard ( 802.22WG).   A PhD  in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology (US) , he was granted no less than    5 patents  for  his doctoral work in this area.
 “Providing Internet access to underserved populations is critical for growth in the New Millennium. India is committed to bringing those economic benefits to its 1.3 billion citizens,” says Dr Mody, “WSA is collaborating enthusiastically with the Government to demonstrate how whitespace solutions can deliver broadband services reliably and cost-efficiently to realize the 'Digital India' vision.”
- Anand Parthasarathy, in Bangalore