By Tanveer Mohammad
Just like gold, spectrum is a scarce and finite natural resource and both do not come cheap. In this highly connected world, one can do without gold but everything will come to stand still if spectrum is not there. With nearly 5 billion unique mobile customers spread globally among more than 800 operators, the demand for the airwaves is humongous. The traffic currently is being generated by individuals using voice or data services. In the coming years, machines will also claim their share of spectrum when the current 300 million M2M connections zoom to touch the billion mark.
The good news is that all this means good business – higher consumption, better ARPUs, profitable growth – for the telcos. The bad news: As business grows governments are realising the worth of spectrum and they are extracting their pounds of flesh. As long as the revenue grows and there is capital in the market, this part is taken care of. In many countries, the fight for airwaves is almost over. Everyone has a phone and more or less the data traffic can also be predicted.
However, in a country like India, that holds almost one sixth of mobile connections globally and there is atleast 50% of rural population that still needs connectivity, the arena is still hot and active. Everyone needs more spectrum here.
Estimates show that operators in India have 0.10 Mhz of spectrum available for a million people whereas some of the mature telecom countries such as the Netherlands and Belgium have handsome 20.0 MHz available for every million population. In the coming spectrum auction some pressure is expected to ease out with 2000 MHz in different bands being put on the block. With the government expecting to mop up over Rs 5.36 lakh crore from the sale, the spectrumis unlikely to come cheap.
How much spectrum is enough?
As per Cisco Visual Networking Index, the Internet traffic in India is set to rise more than four-fold by 2020 at a CAGR of 34% from 2015. This will come from expected 600 million new internet users and factors like increasing mobile access, Wi-Fi expansion and demand for video services. With the mobile device expected to become the first screen to access Internet, the industry is not expected to come out of the spectrum crunch anytime soon.
For a new operator like Telenor, which has a limited footprint in six operational circles and one that carries an ambition of offering affordable voice and data services to the mass market, high spectrum price is not really the way to go. Even in rural areas, the demand for digital services is going up. Currently, the smartphone penetration though is in low double digits, crashing handset prices and initiatives like Digital India are going to push the demand for good quality network and service experience. It is a fine balance that needs to be struck to between being competitive in the market and offering relevant services at affordable rates. The answer lies in being efficient in operations and sweating out assets including spectrum through innovative solutions.
Efficient and innovative solutions to do more with less
The telecom infrastructure companies have been investing in loading more subscribers on per mega hertz of available spectrum. One such solution is Lean GSM and earlier this year Telenor in India became the first operator globally to deploy this on its modernised network along with Huawei.
Lean GSM helps operators in maximising spectrum efficiency and increases coverage. This solution uses GPS-based synchronization and automated interference management based on real time network measurement. This improves network capacity by over 30% using the same spectrum resources and provides superior voice and data experience. Efficient utilization of spectrum also improves energy efficiency upto 30%, making the network green by reducing carbon footprint. Moreover, the additional capacity freed by Lean GSM deployment can be utilized in spectrum re-farming for introducing LTE technology. While a full LTE or 4G deployment needs 5 Mhz spectrum, Narrow Band LTE (NB LTE) can be introduced on as low as 1.4 Mhz of spectrum giving flexibility to an operator.
The blade solution is based on deep understanding of customer requirements. It supports flexible combinations of Baseband Unit (BBU), Radio Frequency (RF) and power modules, provides Global System for Mobile (GSM), Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) and LTE three-mode concurrent operations, delivering operators an effective solution to deploy at complex sites. A multi-band multi-RAT wireless base station has become the standard for network construction, and the Huawei Blade Site solution efficiently utilizes the limited site footprint to enhance network capacity, providing users with a better mobile broadband experience and help operator to create valuable and advance mobile broadband network.
Does this mean with Lean GSM and blade solutions the demand for spectrum will go down? Definitely No. Spectrum is the fuel, any innovative solution will use it to improve on the efficiency part and optimise the available bandwidth without compromising on the quality of service delivery.
(The author of this article, Tanveer Mohammad is COO at Telenor (India) Communications.)