Initial reservation notwithstanding, the Centre has set the ball rolling on innovative pilot projects by Google and Microsoft for potentially expanding Internet reach in India and had asked Google India to submit a revised proposal with a new frequency band for deploying its Project Loon in India.
Google, which had approached the Department of Information and Technology (DeitY) late last year to conduct pilot test of Project Loon in the frequency band 700-900 MHz in the country, has been asked to submit a revised proposal with a change of the frequency band.
This follows protests from stakeholders that the originally proposed frequency band – 700-900 MHz — was being used by cellular operators and that if the pilot were to be carried out, it could lead to interference with cellular transmissions. “Google India’s been asked to submit a revised proposal for Project Loon with a new frequency band. The revised proposal with change of frequency band is yet to be received,” an official involved in the exercise said.
Meanwhile, ERNET India, an autonomous organisation under DeitY, had already wrapped up the pilot testing to determine whether projects based on the so called ‘TV White Space Technology’ is appropriate for establishing Internet connectivity in gram panchayat schools in remote areas. Microsoft’s Project White Spaces is one such project that aims to tap into the unused frequencies allocated to broadcasting services, but that are left unused in particular regions of the country.
These spectrum chunks are left open as buffering gaps between the high-powered transmissions carrying broadcast TV to avoid interference. Devices such as mobile phones and tablets could use the free spectrum by knowing which frequencies are available, at what power levels, and at which times of the day in a particular location.
A government official said that experimental licences have already been issued to eight applicants for carrying out experiments at several places, using TV Whitespace technology, in the frequency band 470-528 MHz. “The cost benefit analysis and impact on existing telecom operators would be known at the conclusion of experiments,” an official said. The final approval for projects such as Google’s Project Loon and Microsoft’s Project White Spaces would be subject to these projects being deemed as consistent with India’s broader security requirements, officials indicated.
In mid-December, the Ministry of Communications had said that the frequency band proposed to be used by Project Loon, through which Google plans to provide internet connectivity using balloons, was already “being used for cellular operations in India” and that “it will lead to interference with cellular transmissions”.
Microsoft chief executive officer Satya Nadella and Google chief executive officer Sundar Pichai had met Minister for Communications and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad later in December, wherein they are believed to have discussed the viability of their respective projects.
Google defines Project Loon as a “network of balloons travelling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters”. Project Loon balloons will travel in the stratosphere, approximately 20 km above the Earth’s surface, latching on to layers of wind as directed by software algorithms to determine where they need to go. In the end, they will form one large communications network. Each balloon can provide connectivity to a ground area about 40 km in diameter using wireless communication LTE or 4G. Project Loon partners with telecom companies to share cellular spectrum. It has already tested this technology in New Zealand, California and Brazil.
To use LTE or 4G, Project Loon partners with telecom companies to share cellular spectrum so that people will be able to access the Internet everywhere directly from their phones and other LTE-enabled devices. Google uses solar panel and wind to power electronic equipment in the balloon throughout the day.
Microsoft through its White Spaces project proposes to utilise the unused spectrum from television for internet connectivity. The Srikakulam district in Andhra Pradesh has the pilot project in place for the White Spaces project, officials said. The US software company, they said, is seeking free unlicensed spectrum for which the telecom companies have been eager to know the policy stand of the government.