Three technologies compete for India's last mile
It's Microsoft's White-fi vs Google's baloons vs. Facebook's drones - all competing to bring broadband to India's remote villages
In connection with India's Rs 200 billion-plus national broadband project, three MNC technology majors are competing to bring broadband last-mile connectivity into remote places in the country.
Google is experimenting with a network of helium balloons to relay signals to places that are hard to reach for traditional networks. Facebook is considering using drones.
Microsoft's technology, called TV White-Space, uses unused spectrum in frequencies used by TV channels to carry data. Already, Microsoft has sought a licence from the telecom department to deploy a working example of the technology in Bangalore as proof of concept.
Microsoft is not at present talking about running a network, but more about creating a technology meant for emerging markets, according to Microsoft India Chairman Bhaskar Pramanik. "We'd like government, nations and telecom companies to use it."
The radio interface developed by Microsoft functions like Wi-Fi router on a bigger scale. It provides wireless connectivity across a 10 km radius with speeds of up to 16 Mbps, a much larger area and speeds than the typical routers set up for commercial use today.
Using White-Fi and dynamic spectrum, there is possibility of extending the network coverage by 10 kms from each of the 250,000 touch points and then connect another router and extend it by another 10 kms, effectively blanketing the country, Pramanik added.
Google's Project Loon aims to provide "inexpensive" Internet access across India through a network of helium-filled solar-powered balloons placed in the stratosphere at an altitude of about 32 km. Pilot projects are underway in New Zealand, California and Brazil.
Facebook's Connectivity Lab is developing massive, yet light, solarpowered drones which will be able to fly for years at a time and serve as large connectivity hubs, the division's engineering director Yael Maguire had said. The first of these drones may well be
deployed in India, Economic Times reported last month. Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg had earlier played down the effectiveness of Google's balloons, saying they have a shorter life than drones and can't survive the rigour of weather patterns. "This means drones have more endurance than balloons, while also being able to have their location precisely controlled," he had said in a white paper on drones earlier this year.
Pramanik thinks that Microsoft's approach is better: "...there are many choices we have as a nation - we can use 2G, 3G or 4G, we can talk about balloons or drones. But..I can't imagine a drone hovering over the Earth for long periods of time and a balloon not drifting away, while [using MS technology] you can use solar power, an antenna that is used for simple TV broadcast and a device or router which is powered by solar which can provide the connectivity"
Based on story in Economic Times