TRAI gears up for public Wi-Fi networks in India

The stage is set for Indians to access cost effective and widely available Internet across the country with TRAI issuing a consultation paper on “proliferation of broadband through public Wi-Fi networks”.

TRAI needs the suggestions from the Indian telecom industry to finalize spectrum for allocating Wi-Fi networks. Wi-Fi uses radio waves that run at a specific frequency, generally 2.4GHz and 5GHz, to create wireless networks, said TRAI in the consultation paper.

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More than 450 million households worldwide and over 47 million public hotspots are estimated to be connected by Wi-Fi.

iPass and Maravedis Rethink says India had 29,205 Wi-Fi hotspots in 2014. In comparison, France had 13 million, United States 9.8 million and United Kingdom had 5.6 million hotspots.

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India’s share in Wi-Fi hotspots is less than 1/1000. The study also estimated that the global number of hotspots would grow to over 340 million, nearly one Wi-Fi hotspot for every twenty people on earth by 2018, as compared to one Wi-Fi hotspot for every 150 people.
Wi-Fi hotspots in India in 2016
Globally the increase in number of Wi-Fi hotspots was 568 percent from 2013 to 2016, whereas India has an increase of 12 percent only. For India to reach a goal of one hotspot for every 150 people, 8 lakh additional hotspots will have to be installed.

According to the Ericsson Mobility Report of June 2016, over 85 percent of data traffic generated by the use of smart phone video apps goes over Wi-Fi. The study notes that although cellular data usage on smart phones is growing, Wi-Fi data growth is dramatically outpacing it.

An analysis of smartphone on-device measurements in the USA, Japan and South Korea indicates an 80 percent growth in cellular data usage between July 2014 and October 2015 for smartphone video streaming apps; but corresponding Wi-Fi data growth is more than double of cellular data usage.
Wi-Fi MonetizationCost effective broadband

TRAI has also tried to find out approximate cost per MB for the Wi-Fi network. On the basis of discussion held with various stakeholders, a Wi-Fi network of 20 hotspots was designed for a tier II city catering to around 40,000 subscribers and 10,000 concurrent users, it is estimated that cost per MB in Wi-Fi Network could be less than 2 paise per MB.

TRAI says India’s Internet consumers on an average are paying around 23 paise per MB for the data usage in the cellular Network (2G/3G/4G). This shows that the consumer tariff for data may reduce as much as 1/10th in Wi-Fi compared to mobile data.

At present, mobile network data usage in India is significantly higher than other forms of Internet usage. This can be attributed to a number of factors, including the cost and affordability of different broadband services, depth of fixedline coverage and lesser number of public Wi-Fi.

In 2014, India ranked at 108th position globally in terms of affordability of fixedline broadband services and at 97th for mobile broadband services (postpaid, handset based).

Less Capex

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should incur substantially lesser costs in setting up Wi-Fi access infrastructure compared to mobile broadband networks like 2G/3G/4G. This is on account of the fact that Wi-Fi technology utilises unlicensed spectrum, the equipment is both cheaper and more readily available and maintenance and operational costs are significantly lower.

There will be cost on account of backhaul connectivity to the Internet to provide WiFi broadband services. The lower cost of Wi-Fi delivery should translate into lower prices per MB for the end-users. TRAI says Wi-Fi networks can often offer faster speeds compared to mobile data, allowing users to access more data-intensive applications and content.

For the access network, wireless data communication technologies can play a significant role in the penetration of broadband due to ease of deployment and faster roll out. Moreover, it also allows telecommunication service providers to offload their cellular data through Wi-Fi networks to reduce the traffic on their data networks by making use of unlicensed spectrum.