Natraj Akella, vice president – Wi-Fi at Tata Teleservices, says Tata Docomo has identified certain segments where it’s going ahead and deploying Wi-Fi services offering high speed data.
Some of the focused segments are: Hospitality, Retail Cafes, In-transit Airports, Stadiums, Malls, Public Places, and Educational Institutions.
We have a strong network, experience and logistics strength that make us the partner of choice for organizations. We have invested heavily on a 24 X 7 NOC, on-site support engineers and also work very closely with our partners to provide the best possible experience to our mutual customers. We have built our own network and partner with the technology providers, which provide the access point and the switches. As we are uniquely positioned in this space (huge fiber backbone) and has already grabbed the first mover advantage, the overall space of public Wi-Fi, with its inherent advantages of free spectrum availability, higher speeds and comparatively lower costs (deployment as well as end-user tariffs) presents a huge monetization opportunity for us.
Wi-Fi coverage in India and growth
The public Wi-Fi, an integral part of the smart city initiative is at a nascent stage. In fact, the whole data story in our view is in a nascent stage in our country. There is enough and more headroom available in terms of growth. The number of customers can only go northward from here and within that the average MB or GB of data consumed by the users can only go upwards. We have gradually begun moving to 3G and 4G but the infrastructure support and backend is yet to catch up. Nevertheless, with the onset of new technologies such as IOT and 5G, we believe the growth will be swift in the coming years.
Last year and half, there has been significant interest and focus of the government and enterprises in the Wi-Fi. Now we have come to a stage where we have started to analyse how best we can use Wi-Fi as a complementary technology to what we already have such as mobility or cellular network for mobile customers, fixed network for fixed customers and wireless network for nomadic customers.
Mobile customers are those who are traveling in the car and if there is need to talk to somebody, they are best served by the cellular networks. 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G is the technology truly suited for the mobile users. Fixed user is somebody who is in the desk or in office can be served by the fixed-line network both for voice and data. Nomadic users are those who are at a particular place for longish period of time – more than 20 minute, such as on airport, cafe, shopping mall etc.,that in our assessment is well served by the Wi-Fi network.
The interest in Wi-Fi has also increased because of some positive global announcement. A big device manufacturer and a few other companies made some big announcement around Wi-Fi that lead to improved eco-system and user’s experience. In India also government efforts on Digital India and Smart Cities are very visible, both have generated lot of interest and now people are beginning to discuss what possible and what is not possible, And, I feel those are very interesting development because it has potential to touch different possibilities of using technology.
Wi-Fi is fast emerging as one of the most popular and widely adopted technologies. As per a recent report by Research & Markets, the global Wi-Fi market revenue is forecasted to reach $93.23 billion by 2018 with an estimated CAGR of 15.08 percent during the period 2013-2018. Globally 70 percent smartphone traffic rides on Wi-Fi. A report by Maravedis Rethink stated that there would be 47.7 million public Wi-Fi hotspots deployed globally by the end of 2014, growing to over 340 million in next four years. This brings nearly one Wi-Fi hotspot for every twenty people on earth by 2018, a vast increase from today’s one Wi-Fi hotspot for every 150 people.
Challenges in Wi-Fi deployment
The challenge lies in meeting the demands of increasing mobile traffic along with providing seamless experience and last mile connectivity. By the end of the decade, global mobile data traffic will have reached 30.6 exabytes.Beyond a point, telecom operators can’t hope to boost their core network capacities by simply adding more spectrum or upgrading to high-speed packet access (HSPA) networks. This translates into an opportunity for Wi-Fi. Carrier Wi-Fi networks, managed by telecom service providers, can deliver high-quality, superfast broadband services to meet the growing demand. Combined with advances in infrastructure and improvements in last mile connectivity, high data density and usage challenge of today can become the opportunity for tomorrow.
There are two most important pre-requisites in providing public Wi-Fi services: a) Ease of connection and b) quality of service. Ease of connectivity refers to the number of steps that a customer has to take to connect to Wi-Fi. Towards that, we have simplified the entire process to enable customers’ quick and effective entry into Wi-Fi. As for QoS, throughput is one of the main measures of QoS in addition to latency and jitter.
The throughput speed has to be of a certain minimum threshold level to satisfy customers, which in our assessment can today be provided only through a fixed line backhaul or fiber backhaul. The last mile fiber availability in our country needs to go up. It’s an issue that needs to be addressed. Service provider has to pull the fiber from the nearest point to the hotspot location and that involves certain clearances with the various civic bodies and so on and so forth. So the physicality of doing the work is one aspect of the challenge. Secondly, since the bandwidth is unlicensed, we have to continuously optimize the radio network to deliver uninterrupted high speed internet speed.
In our assessment the demand is there and clearly it’s not going to go away. I think the key that would probably differentiate the winners from the others is the kind of sustained experience that we are able to provide for users. If we are able to sustain that experience day in and day out, they will start expecting it and this service will go on for a long time. All that we will have to ensure is that all the nodes have enough head room available for growth all the time. Because in our country the exciting thing is that we are witnessing all kinds of growth. Proactively, we are constantly upgrading.
Given the PM’s vision for Digital India and Smart cities initiative, I feel Government will play a role in helping clear any sort of roadblocks that service providers may face as far Wi-Fi roll out is concerned.
A key requirement in providing reliable, consistent and high speed public Wi-Fi services is good bandwidth. This can be achieved by establishing a strong backbone network and infrastructure that not only supports existing requirements but has provisions of future scalability. Tata Docomo partners with wireline providers such as Tata Communications, etc. to establish Wi-Fi services across the country.
A pioneer in the fiber optics space, our infrastructure is expansive in addition to being highly reliable allowing for seamless connectivity via the Wi-Fi network. As far as managing the wireless aspect goes the network team ensures & tests the signaling of the frequency bands via Wi-Fi Access Points which are of carrier grade quality in order to provide seamless and hassle free connected experience to concurrent users.
Customer experience from Wi-Fi
With customers expecting more efficient and seamless communication channels, the Wi-Fi business is set to take off, and Tata Teleservices (TTSL) is sitting in the driver’s seat.
TTSL’s records in the events business have been acknowledged. We received two mentions in the Limca Book of Records 2014: one for creating the largest indoor Wi-Fi hotspot in India, which was at the Auto Expo in Delhi, and the other for creating the largest outdoor Wi-Fi hotspot, which was at a stadium used for Indian Premier League cricket matches.
Such events provide us with significant opportunities as there is a large footfall in a small geography and we have a large number of customers adopting our Wi-Fi. We do everything possible to create awareness about the services available to customers before and during the event. We also endeavor to provide consistent, good quality data throughput to our customers.
The customer is not bothered about what technology is serving him. What he/she wants to care about is: Is he getting good speed Internet access, is it easy to use, and is it consistent. So, this whole process of customer experience is extremely important and perhaps not easily understood by everybody, and we have built it over a period of time.
We have built up the knowledge, tools, as well as the people expertise which allows us to provide good customer experience consistently. It is the same set of vendors who supply to all the players. So, what is really differentiating is how you put the whole thing together and give an offering to the customer that they like. We let our customers decide by letting them know every offer in the market and let them figure out the best offering to use.
Natraj Akella, vice president – Wi-Fi at Tata Teleservices