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Wi-fi set to take India by storm

By Joji Thomas Philip in New Delhi
February 08, 2005 09:24 IST
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Wi-fi is set to take off in India after being written off initially, with metros and small towns likely to see a large increase in the number of hotspots. The trigger is the government's move to delicense the 2.4 Ghz and 5.1 Ghz bands, on which the wi-fi platform works.

Hotspots are locations that are wi-fi enabled, which means one can log on to the Internet at these spots without using cables. Under the new notification, the 2.4 Ghz band can now be used to provide both indoor and outdoor wi-fi, while the 5.1 Ghz band can be used for indoor and adjacent campuses.

Any service provider can establish, maintain, possess and deal with wireless networks operating on these bandwidths without a licence.

At present, of the nearly 300 public hotspots in the country, over 80 per cent are in Bangalore. Also, less than 1 per cent of the world's hotspots are in India.

Wi-fi access tariffs in the country, which are currently among the highest in the world, are likely to crash as standalone service providers enter the race to offer these services.

"Currently, unbundling prevents Internet service providers from entering the broadband market. As wi-fi equipment can be deployed quickly, standalone operators will enter this sector. We see a manifold increase in hotspots," said Amitab Singhal, president, Internet Service Providers Association of India.

"Delicensing brings new meaning to corporate connectivity and large numbers of companies can now roll out this service cost-effectively," he added.

"Market forces will ensure that all notebooks, including the budget ones, will soon have wi-fi facility," said an analyst.

The availability of the wi-fi network can also shape the future of how business is conducted.

With wi-fi on handsets, there is likely to be a steep increase in the demand for smart hand-held devices for wireless data capture. Such wi-fi devices can be used in department stores, hospitals, shopping complexes and other businesses.

"Smart hand-held devices and not notebooks will drive the wi-fi revolution as they are cost-effective, lighter, user-friendly and can be customised for specific applications," said Vinnie Metha, executive director, Manufacturers' Association of Information Technology.

"Delicensing was long overdue. Any deregulation is a right step. The government must take steps to ensure that new platforms like wi-max are also deregulated," he added.

While stating that delicensing of the Wi-Fi frequencies was essential for this platform to become serviceable, Arpita Pal Agarwal, senior manager, telecom practice, PricewaterhouseCoopers, said for the revolution to take off the industry would have to address other factors such as security, service delivery and pricing.
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Joji Thomas Philip in New Delhi
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