DoT open to Microsoft tapping unused TV spectrum for broadband service

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has agreed in principle to a proposal by Microsoft to tap unused spectrum in terrestrial TV frequency bands between 470MHz and 585 MHz for offering broadband services.

This spectrum band is currently earmarked for broadcasting services globally and in India it is only partly used by state-run Doordarshan for offering terrestrial TV services.

While offering to support Narendra Modi government's 'Digital India' programme, the US technology major had recently proposed that the unused frequencies, called white space, could be used for broadband services.

White space refers to spectrum allocated for broadcasting services but which remains unutilised. This spectrum can be used with low-power devices, without causing interference to the broadcasting station.

Microsoft had sought an experimental licence to use the frequency band to run a pilot project for a two-year period and showcase the technology to deliver services such as education, healthcare and e-governance in selected villages.

DoT is expected to move the telecom regulator to seek views on how this spectrum band can be put to better use.

A technical committee set up by the DoT had submitted a report recommending the use of TV white space for other services.

''Doordarshan being the only broadcaster, the occupancy of spectrum for TV operations at various locations in the country is quite limited. Hence, comparatively larger amount of 'white spaces' are likely available,'' the report stated.

However, while the concept seemed workable, DoT officials are not sure how gaps in spectrum bands could be used without causing interference to existing operations.

Microsoft has offered to undertake pilot projects on this. The DoT report does not, however, specifically mention the Microsoft proposal, it has only recommended that the centre may authorise agencies to undertake pilot studies.

Microsoft officials had as far back as in 2009 approached the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, including the then chairman JS Sarma, to demonstrate how vacant spectrum can be used to provide broadband services at a fraction of the cost incurred by existing players.

Microsoft researchers at Redmond, US, are reported to have developed the technology and platform to dynamically scan airwaves and transmit data using the white space in spectrum.

Though similar to a Wi-Fi network, researchers say the white space technology offers a much wider range and higher throughput.