Broadband India Forum (BIF), a think tank for Digital Transformation, celebrated the World Wi-Fi Day together with Wireless Broadband Alliance with this year’s theme of working towards ‘Connecting the Unconnected.’
As the Chief Guest, Sanjay Shamrao Dhotre, Hon’ble Minister of State for HRD, Communications & Electronics & IT, Government of India gave the special address. Vivek Banzal, Director CFA, BSNL and Vipin Tyagi, Executive Director, DoT were also Special Guests of Honor at the event. Kartik Raja, CEO & Co-Founder along with fellow Co-Founder & Chief Product Officer Mr. Chandra Ramamoorthy represented Phimetrics Technologies Pvt Ltd. Both co-founders along with Satya N Gupta, Chairman-India and BIMSTEC, Asia, Bluetown made presentations to highlight the positive business prospects with liberalized Wi-Fi as recommended by TRAI.
World Wi-Fi Day is a global initiative to help bridge the Digital divide. Organized by Wireless Broadband Alliance under the leadership of Connected City Advisory Board (CCAB), this celebration by BIF assumes significance as at least 25% of the world’s unconnected 3 billion people, with no access to the internet, are from India.
As part of the new National Digital Communications Policy (NDCP), the government of India is committed to deploying an interoperable Public Wi-Fi ecosystem and is in consultations with TRAI and the TSPs to enable this. Public Wi-Fi is aligned to the government’s programme under to identify, assign and allocate license exempt spectrum besides licensed bands for meeting the broadband targets.
The National Digital Communications Policy 2018 has in its policy document has given due recognition to the role of Public Wi-Fi by liberalizing Public Wi-Fi by targeting a creation of 5 Mn Wi-Fi hotspots by 2020 and 10 Mn by 2022.
In his special address to the gathering, Sanjay Shamrao Dhotre, Hon’ble Minister of State for HRD, Communications & Electronics & IT, Government of India said, “Internet is now increasingly becoming a ubiquitous commodity and is something that no Indian irrespective of their social and economic standing can do without. It is now one of life’s essential requirements. We have to set up 1-1.25 lakh digital villages this year. I would like to reaffirm the government’s commitment to continue working to bridge the digital divide. Our endeavor to enable this will continue and public Wi-Fi will be a cornerstone of this.”
In his address, Vivek Banzal, Director CFA, BSNL said, “We urge the government to accord Public Wi-Fi special infrastructure status as has been done to electricity so that the objectives of the NDCP are achieved. BSNL is committed to spread Wi-Fi services in rural areas by creating powerful partnerships with local entrepreneurs.”
Kartik Raja and S.N.Gupta highlighted how the public data office aggregators (PDOAs) would have a viable business case that would attract good funding for these projects. Mr. Raja and Mr. Ramamoorthy also highlighted India’s potential to generate approximately Rs. 60,000 crore of economic activity using public Wi-Fi. This they said can benefit an entire ecosystem of stakeholders including device manufacturers, private enterprises at the grassroot level, increase local network providers and finally also improve public services. From a usability perspective, public Wi-Fi would also have a transformational impact on transport corridors, public venues, office buildings, local entrepreneurs as well as the millions of Indians who are still on the wrong side of the digital divide. Additionally, India’s ambitious programmes around Smart Cities and smart villages would also benefit from Public Wi-Fi.
TV Ramachandran, President Broadband India Forum further added, “World Wi-Fi Day serves to highlight the importance and relevance of public Wi-Fi especially for developing countries such as India that are hard at work to bridge the digital divide. The effect of such low-cost and high-quality bandwidth on India’s rural economy will be transformational and will fuel the emergence of small/mid-sized players in the public Wi-Fi ecosystem, open the rural economy and encourage village level entrepreneurship, while also boosting rural jobs and employment. Also, bandwidth hungry applications and real time video streaming would be effectively served by Public Wi-Fi. Mobile spectrum would be unable to cope with the exponential rise in bandwidth- hungry video- based applications without the support of adequate number of Public Wi-Fi Hotspots. This increase in the number of broadband users and in data consumption will also in-turn also benefit the TSPs and other carriers (since they would only have to haul the traffic), thereby boosting their revenues. It is a definite win-win for all.”
Broadband India Forum shares the government’s perspective that public Wi-Fi has immense potential in enabling high speed, high capacity broadband coverage to a large population mass in an affordable & ubiquitous manner besides helping decongest the Wi-Fi network and help achieve carrier grade quality of broadband services. BIF had earlier said that access to additional 605Mhz delicensed spectrum for Public Wi-Fi in the 5Ghz band has the potential to provide additional backhaul capacity besides facilitate high capacity download access, thereby facilitating ubiquitous and cost-effective broadband access to unserved and underserved areas.
The government on its part believes that public Wi-Fi could bring the costs of broadband delivery to as little as 2 paise per MB, thereby making it more affordable to the common man. The release of 605Mhz of spectrum constitutes the largest release of delicensed spectrum in the world, greater than even the US & EU. This would have a catalytic and cascading effect on the entire telecom ecosystem including handset manufacturers, ISPs and other stakeholders as many more Indians on the other side of the digital divide will be able to access high quality bandwidth at extremely low costs and using more affordable devices.
A BIF-ICRIER joint study of 2017 has shown that for India the indices are strikingly more impressive. The Report has found out that a 10% increase in Mobile Internet Penetration has resulted in a GDP increase of almost 3.3% for India. Therefore, the significance of Broadband penetration is more in India, something that has been amply recognized in the NDCP-2018 and is fundamental to the Hon’ble Prime Minister’s Digital India vision.
India is unfortunately still lagging in comparison to other economies in terms of number of Public Wi-Fi hotspots. Based on a global average of 1 Wi-Fi hotspot for every 150 persons which is being revised to 1 in 20 persons, India should have had 80 lakh hotspots. Though we have 3.5 lakh Public Wi-Fi hotspots thanks to Govt initiatives, we are barely at about 5% of the benchmark requirement. So, we have a long way to go.