With the rising adoption of smartphones in India and subsequent consumption of data on these devices, the country stares at a herculean task of providing high speed quality service to its consumers. The future of mobile broadband, solely based on currently allocated licensed spectrum, looks bleak. Utilising the potential of unlicensed spectrum holds the key here.
All wireless communication technologies require some kind of airwaves to send and receive data, however not all airwave bands are licensed, thus allowing the operator and others to deploy equipment in such spectrum without having to go through regulatory approvals and pay any license fee for its usage.
In India, among the available unlicensed spectrum bands, the Wireless Planning and Coordination wing (WPC) of Indian government under the ministry of telecom has notified 5.825-5.875 GHz band for outdoor use. However, industry bodies have consistently been demanding the government to release more unlicensed spectrum bands to enable bigger data network deployments offering higher capacities, as the currently available spectrum is too low to enable the Digital India Initiatives or reach the rural hinterland in a cost effective manner.
The Use Case
As broadband becomes ubiquitous and demands rise to be always-connected, telecom service providers go the extra mile to provide their users the best possible experience. Earlier the demand to remain connected was the preserve of some enterprises but with the Indian Government’s Digital India Programme to ensure that Government services are made available to citizens electronically by improved online infrastructure and by increasing Internet connectivity or by making the country digitally empowered in the field of technology, using available wireless technologies has become critical for service providers. Indian government’s ambitious project Bharat Net or NOFN also looks a using the unlicensed airwaves to complement the existing fibre network. These airwaves come handy, particularly, in cases like difficult and hilly terrains, where it becomes difficult to lay fibre.
Wi-Fi hotspots in commercial as well as urban areas to cater to the ever increasing data requirements requires unlicensed spectrum and related equipments or UBRs, as it is difficult for telecom operators and ISPs to deploy more cellular infrastructure due to cost and spectrum resources.
Smart Cities project is one more area where unlicensed spectrum are expected to see demand. A smart city, will be based on the success of internet of things (IOT) as multiple components like utilities, smart parking, lighting, surveillance etc will be done automatically through the help of thousands of sensors. A robust network architecture is required to connect all building blocks of a smart city; and it just can’t solely rely on cellular or 4G network as in emergency situations these tend to be jammed. Backhaul through small cells will form the backbone of the network.
Equipments and radios that work on these unlicensed spectrum bands are called UBRs or unlicensed broadband radios.
Benefits of UBR
Broadband Radio units offer reliable, high-speed and secure wireless connectivity between multiple remote locations through high-capacity wireless point to point and point to multipoint configurations. Radios based on sub 6GHz bands can cover long distance and are also suitable for urban deployments providing non line of sight capabilities. Some vendors provide carrier grade performance with a high data rate which is both stable & reliable. As these radios work in unlicensed spectrum bands, they need to conform to regulatory requirements of governments; In India it is WPC, part of DOT which is responsible for the regulation.
Besides, having smaller footprints to conventional microwave radios, they are easy to deploy and mostly operate on plug & play model. The radios, in most cases, can be deployed within hours and, if required, can be dismantled easily and be redeployed somewhere else with no or little tweaks in the configuration.
The UBRs are being used by government agencies and enterprises for connecting multiple locations with head offices within a secured environment both in private network mode as well as extension of large VPN networks. ISPs and carriers use UBRs to offer high-speed wireless broadband access to their customers where it is not feasible to lay fibre. It is perhaps the most cost effective last mile access technology for broadband.
Like licensed spectrum, the use of unlicensed airwaves do have their own challenges, the biggest of which is interference. While government policies regulate the unlicensed band, the solution, however, remains with the selection of right kind of RF technology and the reliability and scalability of the network architecture.
Vendors In Fray
There are multiple global vendors offering different products and solutions for the unlicensed airwaves. Among the international companies who present in India with products in the unlicensed bands are Airspan, Alvarion, Cambium Proxim, Radwin and Ubiquity, with HQs in China, Russia, Israel & United States. There are a handful of Indian companies also viz. Primatel, Maksat and Vihaan Networks offering products in these spectrum.
These technology firms offer different technologies serving different requirements in this arena, from low distance low throughput commercial to high throughput, high SLA enterprise and surveillance requirements, with prices offered based on these matrices.
The requirement of telecom operators for their customers and infrastructure, are generally for high capacity, interference mitigation, high reliability & high MTBF equipment which also provides low operating costs. To fulfill the same, they follow stringent criterion for selection and rely on thorough testing of the equipment before selection.
Snapshot of each of these players in India in the unlicensed bands is provided for the reader’s reference.
Radwin: The Israeli firm has been in India since 2005 and offers a comprehensive suite of sub 6 GHz point-to-point and point-to-multipoint solutions. They also have a wireless product for fast-moving vehicles like trains and Metro Trains. The company is currently the leader in this segment and commands a market share of around 45% in carrier and ISP segment in India, addressing both the backhaul and last mile requirements of all the major operators including Airtel, Reliance, Vodafone, Idea, Aircel, BSNL, Sify and Tikona. The company also boasts of other large customers in segments like railways, defence, airports, mining, city surveillance projects.
Ubiquiti: HQ in USA, started in 2005, it is at number 2 with almost 16% market share in India’s Carrier & ISP Segment. The company boasts of its low priced, commercial market products. Its technology platforms focus on delivering highly advanced and easily deployable solutions. ISPs are the main users for this equipment for achieving low cost last mile access. Operators like Tikona & Vodafone are their customers, though their main focus remains the campus and commercial market where SLAs are less stringent.
Alvarion: This is another firm based out of Israel. This firm is considered to be a WiMAX & Wi-Fi expert and commands around 9% market share in India Carrier & ISP Segment primarily addressing the point to multi point and licensed bands like 3.3Ghz. The company also offers Wi-Fi solutions for smart cities, enterprises, carriers and ISPs. Some of the Indian operators who use Alvarion WiMAX and Radio products include BSNL, Airtel & Aircel. Indian Armed Forces also has some deployments .
Cambium: Headquartered in USA, with a market share of 8% in Carrier & ISP Segment, Cambium Networks is placed at fourth position among UBR solution providers in India. These firm’s core focus areas include scalable and secure Wi-Fi, fixed wireless broadband, point-to-point (PTP) and point-to-multipoint (PMP) platforms. Its radio solutions are used by telcos like Airtel, Idea Cellular, Telenor, and are deployed for enterprises in the sector of oil and gas, mines, ports and city wide Wi-Fi projects.
Maksat Technologies: This Indian firm gives a tough fight to its global competitors and holds a market share of 7% in Carrier & ISP Segment for enterprise business of UBR market in India. The company has its solutions deployed at Defence and other government agencies, large enterprises, carriers and transport operators like metro trains.
Vihaan Networks: This Indian Firm is a part of Shyam Group of Companies. The company manufactures radios in India and also exports to other parts of world. They hold 5% of market share in Carrier & ISP Segment for Enterprise business of UBR market in India. The company’s solutions has majorly been deployed at BSNL.
PraimaTel – Prima Telecom Limited, an Indian firm is a part of telecom division of Suri Group. The company established in 2000 as a distributor of last mile access products, then extended to recognized R&D setup for product design & development in India. They hold 4% of market share in Carrier & ISP Segment, majorly provided its solution to Airtel, Railtel, Aircel & TTSL.
Source : TeleAnalysis