Trai's pre-consultation paper on telecom towers raises issues more complex and contentious than those in spectrum.Green telecom entails low energy networks, alternative energy sources and limited radio frequency damage.A pioneering breed of Indian telecom manufacturers could emerge as global champions of the new architecture.
Those who believe the din over spectrum allocation has reached unbearable proportions may soon have to recalibrate their definition of cacophony.
Trai's recent pre-consultation paper on telecom towers touches upon vital issues that are more complex and contentious than those in spectrum.
These include methods to reduce number of telecom towers while providing better coverage, ensuring safe radiation from mobile towers, and encouraging alternate sources of energy to reduce the carbon footprint.
The questions raised mark a coming of age of thinking on efficient use of resources in the Indian mobile industry. For the first time there is a talk of minimising the use of towers, not just of spectrum.
Further, the questions recognise the unique policy challenges related to the allocation of resources for towers: the need to change land use, provide right of way for backhaul connectivity, minimise the carbon footprint, and limit the radio-frequency radiation damage.
For several years we have been reiterating that spectrum is not the only scarce resource and that policy needs to focus on achieving an optimal mix of spectrum and terrestrial infrastructure given the existing technology.
But today the time has come for policy to do more. It must aim to facilitate the introduction of a paradigmatically new technology that can tackle in one fell swoop the diverse and urgent demands being placed on mobile networks.
While urban and rural telecom are different in terms of market characteristics, there is a surprising convergence of needs from an architectural point of view.
In urban areas, the pressures are coming from lack of quality voice and data coverage within buildings from where the vast majority of calls are made and received, and from the mounting concern over the harmful effects of radio frequency radiation.
In rural areas the challenges relate to the energy costs given the poor availability of grid power, change of land use for setting up towers, right of way for connecting the tower to the exchange and the availability of skilled personnel.
The expected carbon footprint of rural towers amounting to 45 million tonnes annually, almost 4% of India’s CO2 emissions, is another concern.
Given these concerns, there is a global move toward green telecom: low energy networks, powered by alternative sources of energy, with limited radio frequency damage. The most innovative solutions are those which aim to tailor the strength of the signal to the need of the specific location.
In urban areas, this means a low signal in open areas, and an amplified signal within buildings by using in-building solutions that take over calls from macrocells for transmission within the premises.
And in rural areas this translates into the installation of macro-cell transceivers at the centre of village clusters for backhaul and umbrella coverage along with small village towers that operate at an energy level that makes solar power viable.
A network architecture exercise carried out by the author and others for Rajasthan shows the 3,176 conventional towers needed for 40% coverage in rural areas have to be replaced with 635 large towers and 7,620 small towers.
In rural areas given the scant grid power, the new approach will make solar power feasible.
On the technology front, there is a race to see if low energy transceivers can be extended to data applications as well, besides voice services.
In India the rural subsidy should be awarded to the entity which can build the necessary village towers within a circle in the fastest time, with technical specifications determined by the telecommunication engineering centre. The macro-cell towers need not be subsidised.
In the new network architecture, sharing of macro-cellular towers remains an option to reduce capital expenditure.
Technologically and commercially, it does not make sense to share the small towers in the network, either in urban or rural areas.
Through the establishment of infrastructure licences, entities such as RailTel, Power Grid Corporation and Gas Authority of India have put in high capacity transmission infrastructure in pockets of the country where operators’ infrastructure was inadequate. The government should facilitate the sharing of this infrastructure.
The architecture outlined will empower entrepreneurs by allowing investment in small sachets, ease the bottleneck of skilled labour in rural areas, promote employment and benefit the environment.
But it will also inevitably upset some apple-carts and create new winners and losers. One possibility is that a pioneering breed of Indian telecom manufacturers could emerge as worldwide champions of the new architecture.
If Trai sticks the course with its new thinking and importantly, DoT pulls its weight, there promises to be a battle royal on the cards.
Posted by Shridhar Chandru , Researcher at SSIMS | 05 May, 2010
Posted by Vijay | 04 May, 2010
Posted by Ramdas | 03 May, 2010
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