Visualize life post the COVID-19 lockdown, you are driving home from work and your favourite TV channel is being beamed to your mobile phone from the sky by the likes of say Tata Sky, Dish TV, DD Direct or any other service provider of your choice (e.g. Jio DTH, Airtel Digital TV, Sun Direct…) What does this imply? Firstly, the quality of the video will remain superior and will not deteriorate during your car ride like it does even with the best mobile coverage. Secondly, your mobile data pack will not have to fork out the bandwidth as the television channel is broadcast and does not come through the cellular network. But what about streaming OTT platforms such as HotStar, Netflix or Amazon Prime? Well you have the option of pulling it from the internet or if your DTH broadcaster includes these, they too will come via the sky. What more?
Real-time updates can be broadcasted to your mobile device –
A COVID-19 related alert or a flash flood warning can also be broadcast to your mobile phone. This means that it can make a difference between life and death. In 2019, there was a flash flood in South Pune where several vehicles and ground floors of housing societies were submerged in water within minutes of the rains as water came gushing in quickly and breaking all barriers. A person who was driving home called his wife informing her that he would be over 30 minutes late as there was incessant rain and traffic was moving very slowly. Unfortunately, he never reached home as his car was submerged in water. The question that arises here is – What if he had a warning voice / video message on his mobile phone about the water rising from the Pune civic administration via TV broadcast? That might have helped save his life!
People have been using mobile phones primarily for voice calls, internet browsing, social networking or playing games. And, now those working from home log into their company servers. Students are using video conferencing options to attend online classes. So, can one have the internet connection for tweets, social media etc. while videos and others come via the broadcast medium like television Direct to Home (DTH). It all gets integrated in the mobile phone and other personal computing devices in the hands of the end user.
Watching television on Mobile Phones?
Watching your favorite TV channel show directly on the mobile phone is an interesting idea. Quality of the video is based on the instantaneous speed rather than average speed. If you are downloading a file, average speed matters. But a video requires good instantaneous speed to provide hassle-free viewing experience. Unicast method used by mobile communication (4G and even 5G) doesn’t guarantee this. Further, it is predicted that the video content is bound to increase by 8-10 times between now and 2023. And the chances are, post COVID-19, this trend might go up even beyond.
India is a large, diverse and a content rich country with 22 scheduled languages, over 1500 spoken languages, several powerful and rich regional cinemas besides giant Bollywood, 20000 culinary heritage recipes in a culture and civilization that goes back thousands of years. In addition, the country is home to giant IT services industry and is now expanding into many other services such as tele-medicine, yoga etc. Post COVID-19, video traffic may zoom even beyond the factor of 10. Many organizations might permanently move towards working from home, education and others that have gone online will continue in that mode thereby increasing overall digital traffic. Should we then be driven by the current stale state-of-the-art of mobile communication wherein more data means fatter pipes or deploy smart radios to create smart pipes.
Current communication architecture in the country (Internet, mobile telephony and broadcast) does not offer the provision for receiving broadcast on mobile phones. And, there is no native support for Over- The-Top content. Unicast mechanism for video will have run its course for the volume India will require in next few years by making it uneconomic for telecom service providers. Even Jio may find it tough. It is therefore necessary to look at broadcast spectrum, mobile spectrum and other point to point and point to multi point radios in a wholesome manner for the next generation communication topology. Further, there is an urgent need to optimize overall radio spectrum by utilizing underused broadcast spectrum to ease the pressure on the cellular spectrum. In a content rich but spectrum starved country like India, this is a MUST.
It’s a fine grain mixing of mobile spectrum and broadcast spectrum to take video, text and data traffic together, split the video traffic to be sent over broadcast while rest of the traffic travels on mobile, fibre etc. Now, with this architecture in place, the input can be TV channels, Content providers like HotStar, Netflix etc. and free to Air channels like Doordarshan etc. The traffic is desegregated into video and non- video and traverses over broadcast medium, Internet and cellular to be reassembled at the receiving end for consumption by the end user. Over the top (OTT) content should move from unicast to broadcast networks. We should create smarter pipes rather than put weight on our networking infrastructure by using clumsy fatter and fatter pipes. Just the way Wi-Fi offload has been useful for mobile data, video offload is the next progression to optimize spectrum usage. Let’s look at TV, OTT, social media, voice and data as different facets of human interaction and take the lead in creating next generation communication technologies for these.
While working from home, online education and entertainment tele-medicine, disaster alerts, secure communication for armed forces, communication for difficult to reach areas like high altitude or remote rural areas are other applications that will love video desegregation and smarter pipes. Even industry verticals such as the automotive industry can gain from this shift as it will allow them to integrate additional software and electronics in cars than mechanical parts. The most interesting part about building infrastructure technologies such as telecommunication is that, people find usages through innovative thinking that technology developers never thought of.
Now, the question is – Is this wishful thinking or does the technology exist to address all of the above? The answer is that technology not only exists but has been developed in India. Direct to mobile TV might seems to be futuristic, but it is possible in today’s world! Who would have thought we can create a movie on a mobile phone or watch a YouTube video comfortably on a mobile phone even three years back, but we are evolving. System integration capability that is required to deploy, operate and manage such technologies is available in abundance in India.
What is needed for next generation communication revolution is visionary and forward viewing policies coupled with the right regulatory mechanism. These must act as catalysts to bring these innovations to commercial implementations and create the ecosystem. It will impact not only India but many parts of the world, where countries are tired of high handed approach and cartelization by few global players and would welcome Indian leadership. Specifically, my request is for the Ministry of Communication & Information Technology (MCIT), Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and Defence Ministry to come together as major stake holders and come up with new guidelines on usage of radio waves. PMO can provide the trigger and over-arching guidance. This requires political attention at the highest level. Once that is available, we have expertise in the country right from semiconductor to system integration. And, if India takes the lead, it can lead next wave of telecom revolution with global impact.