Public Wi-Fi faces challenges, reveals TRAI

Telecom regulator TRAI that announced a draft consultation paper for expanding public Wi-Fi in India shared a number of challenges that impacts Wi-Fi business.

ALSO READ: TRAI gearing up for proliferation of public Wi-Fi networks in India

Wi-Fi equipment forecast
Wi-Fi facts

# Wi-Fi connects more than 450 mn homes
# Wi-Fi connects over 47 mn public hotspots
# India had 29,205 Wi-Fi hotspots in 2014
# France had 13 million Wi-Fi hotspots
# United States had 9.8 million Wi-Fi hotspots
# United Kingdom had 5.6 million hotspots
# Wi-Fi hotspots globally grew 568 percent from 2013 to 2016
# Wi-Fi hotspots in India increased 12 percent from 2013 to 2016
# India needs 8 lakh hotspots to target one hotspot for every 150 peopleWi-Fi hotspots forecast
Challenging Wi-Fi

TRAI has shared the following issues as the main challenges that need to be addressed in order to ensure better proliferation of public Wi-Fi services in India.

Availability of unlicensed spectrum

TRAI noted that most of the frequency bands recommended for de-licensing by the Authority have been exempt from licensing requirements, outdoor use of 5.725 – 5.825 GHz band is still licensed.

As part of TRAI’s recommendation dated 17 April 2015 for de-licensing the 5.725 – 5.825 GHz band for outdoor usage, DoT must release larger quantities of unlicensed spectrum for better quality of broadband service and reducing the strain on existing networks.

TRAI says many countries have set aside certain bands exclusively for unlicensed users to provide maximum flexibility for innovation and lower entry costs for some types of ubiquitous wireless devices.

Several other frequency bands can be utilized for wireless provision of Internet access. TRAI said most countries have already delicensed the 60 GHz band and this band has a good device ecosystem. The 60 GHz band is also known as V-band or WiGig band (Wi-Fi at 60 GHz) using IEEE 802.11ad protocol.

On 29 August 2014, TRAI recommended that, Indian telecoms should get high capacity backhaul Eband (71-76 / 81-86 GHz) and V-band (57-64 GHz) in order to increase broadband penetration in India.

TRAI has also suggested TV White Spaces, i.e. unutilised frequency bands which were earlier used to prevent channel leakages between analogue broadcasts of television programming, to create a wireless backhaul for supporting wireless Internet access. Microsoft has been pitching for the use of TV White Spaces.
Wi-Fi traffic

Business viability and incentives

Lack of incentives for broadband operators to invest in Wi-Fi networks is also impacting the growth of public Wi-Fi in India. Wi-Fi is often perceived as a free service so operators may be under pressure to price it low, said TRAI.

Wi-Fi in mobile platforms such as buses / metros also takes a hit on account of the fact that the backhaul used is licensed 3G/4G.

There may be a need to consider other incentives such as Right of Way permissions, permission to setup kiosks at select locations to promote Wi-Fi services, etc.

Similarly, commercial models for deployment of public Wi-Fi services which involve transfer of assets at the end of contract period, such as BOOT, may need to be assessed taking into account the feasibility of return on capital on investments in network and equipment deployed by the ISP.

Logistics of deployment of public Wi-Fi

The deployment of public Wi-Fi services may be delayed on account of logistical concerns, such as difficulty in log-in procedures; restriction on simultaneous login through multiple devices using the same user ID and password; privacy and security concerns, lack of a framework on roaming between Wi-Fi networks and difficulties in making payments for Wi-Fi access.

Customer log-in experience

As per the existing requirements laid down by the DoT, a user has to either provide a photo ID or avail of a one-time password (OTP) option through SMS in order to use a public Wi-Fi service. It is observed that places with high population density – like airports, busy markets, national monuments, railway stations etc. – often face cellular network congestion leading to delays in the delivery of the OTP. This leads to a poor customer experience and often deters consumers from using public Wi-Fi services.

Foreign tourists face log-in problems when they try to obtain an OTP by SMS using their home country’s ISD code and mobile number. TRAI says there is no explicitly defined criterion on whether the OTP can be sent to a foreign mobile number.

One of the options that may be considered to alleviate concerns of OTP based login to access public Wi-Fi services is by adopting differential login options depending on the nature of the customer accessing the public Wi-Fi network.

Access by international travellers

Up to 70 percent of international travellers do not use traditional mobile services, instead often relying on Wi-Fi networks to stay connected while traveling abroad.

India do not have framework in the country for the provision of public Wi-Fi access to foreign tourists. Foreign tourists often face challenges in accessing Wi-Fi Internet services due to the OTP requirement. They overcome this issue by purchasing Wi-Fi roaming cards through international Wi-Fi roaming aggregators like Boingo, iPass etc.

Infrastructure sharing / Roaming facilities

Due to network and cost limitations, most internet service providers are not in a position to provide uninterrupted Wi-Fi coverage to their users across various geographic locations, particularly so in case of international travellers. This poses a significant challenge in the widespread adoption of Wi-Fi services.

Public Wi-Fi networks can be used for mobile data offload to ease network congestion on mobile networks in high density public footfall areas. ISPs may use this feature for their own mobile traffic offload or may decide to enter into an agreement with other ISPs for sharing of public Wi-Fi infrastructure on rental/ revenue share basis.

Neutral Wi-Fi network

TRAI says there may be a business case for a ‘neutral Wi-Fi network’ wherein subscribers of all ISPs can access high speed broadband connection through Wi-Fi without duplicating infrastructure. The neutral network can allocate separate SSID to each cellular operator. ISPs can get into agreements with one another for facilitating roaming of a Wi-Fi subscriber of one network to other networks.

In September 2014, Comcast and Liberty Global, cable multi service operators in the U.S. and Europe respectively, formed an agreement to offer international Wi-Fi Roaming connectivity to their subscribers.

Some telecom stakeholders have suggested that Wi-Fi hotspots can be developed like any small scale industry and it should be possible to start this business by shop owners and unemployed youths etc. This can be done by some “light touch” regulation to create employment opportunity for people and simultaneously reap the benefits of broadband penetration.

No takers for paid public Wi-Fi

Users at Mumbai airport can access Ozone-GVK and RZone by the ISP Ozone Wi-Fi services. After the freemium the user has an option to upgrade to paid service.  Ozone informed that not more than 10 percent of the users upgrade from the free to the paid service in any month.

400 to 500 users are using free Wi-Fi from BSNL in Varanasi Ghats. However, the figure drops to 70-80 after the free usage period.

Indian Wi-Fi consumers say mechanism of payment is cumbersome. Even if they buy voucher and there is balance of data, it cannot be used on some other hotspot and this effectively makes data costlier to them.