New Delhi: Can Wi-Fi be a cost efficient answer to how to boost internet penetration in India and improve the quality of mobile services? The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) feels that public hotspots and Wi-Fi can emerge as a backbone for increasing internet penetration across the country , while reducing load for choked telecom operators, who are battling poor call quality and slow broadband speeds.
Trai has suggested the formation of policies and creation of an infrastructure that gives a big push to establishing a Wi-Fi grid that spans major towns and cities and even reaches the rural areas. “Wi-Fi technology holds much promise for a country like India which wants to achieve universal access to information and communication technologies for its population, both in densely populated urban areas as well as remote rural areas where the telephone or cable infrastructure are not yet fully deployed,” the regulator said in a consultation paper.
Better proliferation of Wi-Fi networks can offer a “more affordable and flexible alternative” for scaling up internet access, Trai said, pointing out that the cost per MB of data usage on Wi-Fi is estimated at 2 paise compared to 23 paise on 2G3G4G mobile network.
“The lower cost of Wi-Fi de livery should easily translate into lower prices per MB for the end-users, making it a more affordable service. Wi-Fi networks can often offer faster speeds compared to mobile data, allowing users to access more data-intensive applications and content,” Trai said. The regulator pointed out that costs of setting up Wi-Fi infrastructure are lower when compared to mobile broadband networks like 2G-3G-4G as the technology utilizes unlicensed spectrum and equipment is both cheaper and more readily available. Also, its maintenance and operational costs are significantly lower.
Trai pointed out that the quality of mobile services can see significant improvements if WiFi takes a share of its load. Telecom service providers can offload their data through Wi-Fi networks to reduce traffic by making use of unlicensed spectrum. “While doing so, operators are in a position to offer a better user experience and higher access speeds to subscribers in the Wi-Fi zone, hence facilitating subscriber satisfaction and retention.”
Trai, however, said that WiFi technology and hotspots are yet to pick up in India when compared to other countries, and pointed out that they are mostly used by people when provided free. “Globally , number of Wi-Fi hotspots has increased 568% from 2013 to 2016 compared to 12% (growth) in India,” the regulator said.
“For India to reach a goal of one hotspot for every 150 people (current global average), 8 lakh additional hotspots will have to be installed.” Trai said in order to ensure that internet access is delivered through Wi-Fi hotspots in a consistent and reliable manner, the network should be able to sustain itself through appropriate monetization techniques. Trai said internet-service providers may enter into deals among themselves for sharing public Wi-Fi on rentalrevenue share basis.