India opens up 5 GHz band to expand WiFi coverage and support 5G

Throughout the era of rapid expansion in public WiFi, India has usually lagged behind in freeing up licence-exempt spectrum. A decade ago, the number of WiFi hotspots in the huge country was tiny compared to most other markets.

In recent years, the pace has picked up considerably, and operators have been reducing the cost of their wireless broadband build-outs – and compensating for small cellular spectrum allocations – by turning to WiFi. This has also been accelerated by Google’s build-outs of hotspots, many around railway stations, and efforts by government-backed initiatives and industrial players.

Progress on the regulatory side is still slow compared to many other countries, however. The Indian government has only now freed up significant amounts of spectrum in the 5 GHz band for licence-exempt WiFi and other low power technologies, including short range services.

The directive covers airwaves in 5150-5250 MHz; 5250-5350 MHz; 5470-5725 MHz; and 5725-5875 MHz. This is in harmony with global allocations and SN Gupta, secretary general of the ITU’s APT foundation of India, said this would help improve wireless coverage indoors, in areas like apartment buildings or shopping centers; and to augment capacity for 4G and future 5G.

Under the Bharat Net program, the government plans to roll out 10m WiFi hotspots across the country in rural areas, and is in discussions with the telcos to boost WiFi coverage in urban areas.