Making broadband affordable for all

When the internet was designed, we only thought of fixed lines for transmission and believed content consisted of only surfing and mail. Today, the internet runs spectrum-guzzlers like movies, video clips, Web 2.0 services like Facebook, Twitter, etc, and more innovative value added services are being added everyday. All this is creating a crisis of spectrum availability, and nations are being forced to look for enabling changes in spectrum management policies, technology, regulation and law. Each country is working on various aspects of spectrum usage efficiency, but our problem is massive on account of the huge wireless/fixed line mismatch and rising aspirations. We need to work intensively towards solutions to increase spectrum efficiency. Much has been written on converged and unified licensing and next generation networks as regulatory solutions to aid better spectrum and network efficiencies. However, we would like to examine the emerging methodologies and spectrum allocation policies for better spectral efficiency.

Historically, spectrum is allotted in one of the three ways:

* Licensed for exclusive usage rights to operators—the current usual practice. This practice can no longer meet the increasing requirements of present operators due to the ever-increasing number of subscribers, increase of operators and increase in the number of bandwidth-guzzling value-added services. The auction of scarce spectrum is also leading to a 'winners curse', and also very high prices leading to an increase in tariffs, making the services out of reach of poor consumers.

* License-exempt or unlicensed spectrum—that low-power devices (cordless phones, Wifi devices, etc) which meet certain technical conditions, can share the spectrum. Countries are working on expanding this list for spectral efficiency and higher dispersal.

* Authorised shared access—a complementary way of authorising spectrum access and usage, based on individual authorisations with conditions that ensure quality and payment for use. The scheme can be kick-started by additional allocation of federal spectrum after a vacation process, which requires time and payments to the users for vacation. Europe, UK and the US are currently examining this process. The advantage is a huge increase in utilisation efficiency of scarce resource.

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