“Wi-Fi is evolving into a carrier-grade service that complements cellular networks”


An Interaction with Natraj Akella from Tata Teleservices | TelecomDrive.com

Whether it is establishing strong signal strength or maintaining constant high speeds, Tata Docomo is providing customers with a quality data experience that not only satisfies their data connectivity needs but also delights them.

Natraj Akella, Vice President – Wi-Fi Services, Tata Teleservices Ltd speaks with Zia Askari from TelecomDrive.com about the way Tata Teleservices is delivering innovative solutions around Wi-Fi and why it is becoming increasingly important for operators to adopt the right Wi-Fi strategy.

As a technology – Wi-Fi is doing a great help to operators as a wonderful way to reduce strain on their networks – by virtue of Wi-Fi offload. What more can be done in this direction?

Deliver more value and thus serve priority customers and segments better through innovative products and service bundling with 3G/ 4G plans, WiFi , Content, location based services etc. T-Mobile does this extremely well in the US and we can learn a thing or two from them. It is very important to shift heavy workloads and dense nomadic use cases to cheaper networks such as WiFi which can cater to dense localized deployments.

At the current rate of data growth in the country we will always be short of available spectrum and WiFi can fill the gap. As a matter of fact some carriers and vendors in the west are also exploring LTE on unlicensed spectrum.

As operators embrace evolution of their networks to incorporate 4G and other carrier aggregation techniques, how can Wi-Fi be integrated in their network evolution strategy?

Most telecom operators today put Wi-Fi at the heart of their networks and therefore Wi-Fi remains a key focus and a core integral of the entire evolution strategy. As licensed band technology starts to converge with Wi-Fi new opportunities for the entire mobile ecosystem, both in the user equipment and infrastructure worlds is set to be created.

One of the first consequences of this convergence is that wireless infrastructure companies will need to master something new and in the case of traditional licensed band companies, they would need to get their hands around Wi-Fi. While traditional enterprise-class Wi-Fi vendors on the other hand will need to learn about the licensed band universe.

Carrier aggregation, an LTE-Advanced feature that bonds together bands of spectrum to create wide channels, produce greater capacity and deliver faster speeds on capable devices is one of the great ideas to come out of the 4G standards. It is like a funnel wherein you have all this traffic coming from the wide end of the tunnel, squeezing through the mouth at the other end.

Basically, with carrier aggregation, the mouth of the funnel is widened, so more data traffic can get through, faster and download times can be cut by roughly a third, leading to a better user experience for all. Current advances in cellular technologies form good grounds for actual deployment of integrated LTE-Wi-Fi systems.

What is the rate of growth that you foresee in terms of subscriber numbers and network expansion? Considering an explosive demand for public Wi-Fi services, what are your future expansion plans?

Given the kind of data demand and smart-device proliferation that has occurred and is increasingly growing at a rapid pace, we at TTL see a lot of potential in the public Wi-Fi space. As per industry estimates the number of public Wi-Fi hotspots are set to touch nearly 202,000 by the end of next year.

However, for India to match the current global average of one public Wi-Fi hotspot per 150 people, an additional 800,000 hotspots need to be deployed. Internal studies have indicated that there has been a steady growth in the number of customers who access the internet via Tata Docomo’s public Wi-Fi services. Customers’ experiences with the services have been excellent and it has further helped boost Tata Docomo’s objective to develop its public Wi-Fi services across the country.

From establishing strong signal strength to maintaining constant high speeds, it is the continuous endeavor of Tata Docomo to provide customers with a quality data experience that not only satisfies their data connectivity needs but also delights them.

Since, a key requirement in providing reliable, consistent and high speed public Wi-Fi service is good bandwidth. This can be achieved by establishing a strong backbone of network and infrastructure that not only supports existing requirements but has provisions of future scalability.

The public WiFi provider also needs to keep it profitable to sustain it. What exactly is the revenue model here?

This is an area we are working upon. We support multiple charging models for subscriptions. These plans can be bought online. In addition to the above, TTL customers can use Wi-Fi from their own data package and / or buy packs through our app Tata Docomo Wi-Fi Wizard.

Basis partner and customer feedback, we are evaluating a few over the top monetization models like advertisements, content partnerships, and location-based services. At TTL our belief is that monetization will follow automatically if we are able to give a superlative customer experience and expand our Wi-Fi footprint. This is currently our focus.

With the advent of affordable 4G plans – being offered with all the telcos now, is public Wi-Fi still a necessity?

We feel the two technologies are complimentary. While 4G emphasizes range and mobility over rate – and costs more, Wi-Fi on the other hand emphasizes speed over short distances. Therefore, having both is a good thing. Earlier, it was largely believed that 4G would make Wi-Fi obsolete.

However, its importance has only increased due to an explosion of higher-consumption devices and the need to stay connected. Wi-Fi is now evolving into a carrier-grade service that complements and supplements the cellular networks and thus enriches the overall mobile data experience. Simply put, cellular (3G/LTE) provides mobility and Wi-Fi addresses localized high data-rate access.

More importantly, using cellular and Wi-Fi together in a mobile device has now become a customer expectation. Not only should they work together, but they should be enabled to work together seamlessly at the switch of a button. With most of mobile traffic either originating or terminating indoors today, Wi-Fi is considered as a robust access technology for mobile data offload.

Given the low internet penetration, affordability of smartphones, high spectrum charges and issues around fiber rollout; Wi-Fi will continue to play a pivotal role in powering the aspirations of millions of natives in the Digital India.

What are the big advantages that public Wi-Fi offers to telecom operators as well as end customers?

Wi-Fi hotspot numbers globally are set to grow from 1.3 to 5.8 million in the next four years, this clearly proves the phenomenal growth the sector is set to witness. Setting aside the economic aspect, operators slowly beginning to realise and seize the opportunities that public Wi-Fi as a technology offers them, especially with the aim to improve the customer experience.

Most operators consider Wi-Fi hotspots as very important and even crucial in terms of the customer experience and in terms of reducing the load on the mobile broadband networks and providing value-added services.

While Wi-Fi is gaining importance in operators’ strategies, the latter will clearly have to rethink their roaming strategies and focus on improving the customer experience in terms of the use of mobile services when travelling abroad. While some operators continue to see Wi-Fi as a threat for their roaming revenues because it is cheaper, we at Tata Teleservices see it as an opportunity for the very same reason. We feel Wi-Fi can contribute to developing mobile usage abroad.

While users already manage their data traffic proactively by switching to their domestic Wi-Fi network, this reflex is not yet widespread for access to public hotspots. For this user must be able to connect to the Wi-Fi networks automatically and to switch from one network to another (3G/WiFi) without a service interruption and without having to follow a switchover procedure.

What kind of public Wi-Fi innovation can we expect from TTL in the coming months?

Over the last couple of years, we have consistently showcased experience and excellence in the Wi-Fi hotspot segment. We service and support one of India’s busiest airports, provide Wi-Fi service covering the inner and outer circles of one of the most significant business and leisure centers in the city – Connaught Place, we have a partnership with the Bombay Stock Exchange to offer free Wi-Fi service and other associations with educational institutions, hospitality chains etc. With the innovation of deploying Wi-Fi in such huge areas, the company aims to enable businesses and customers alike who increasingly need connectivity with higher speeds across multiple devices.

In addition to this, I think the key that would probably differentiate the winners from the others is the kind of sustained experience that we can provide for our users. If we can 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 must 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.

Zia Askari
Zia Askari works as the Editor for TelecomDrive.com and carries over 18 years of experience in technology writing, branding, communications and digital marketing. Over these years, Zia has worked with Cyber Media and Grey Head on the content side and RAD Data Communications, Huawei Telecommunications and Shyam Networks on the branding and marketing side.