‘Wi-Fi to complement 3G, 4G in smart city broadband’
Voice&Data: WBA started off its journey in 2003 and has 100 members today globally, but what’s the reason that from India only three operators have evinced interest and have joined the group so far? Shrikant Shenwai: For the last few years, there was no focus on wi-fi but again now we can see there’s a change because the cities seem interested in wi-fi and the operators are also realizing that 3G bytes will not be sufficient or 4G will also not be sufficient.
The consumers are anyway using wi-fi and they might also embrace wi-fi and in fact combining wi-fi with 3G and 4G technology is better and that realization nowadays is becoming stronger.
Not in India, but we can see this mindset change globally, earlier lots of operators in certain markets who were not sure how it will work for them, specially the mobile operators used to think it will damage their revenues in some form or shape.
But I think now, there is sufficient learning in the market that you can have enough usage or enough network, whatever network you put, consumers will end up using it.
What’s up was not there sometime ago but today there is too much of traffic on what’s up and someone needs to support the network. So, I think people are realizing that the bandwidth and capacity are always a challenge and then it would not be about how can we use this technology or this network, it would be all about whatever technology is available we have to use it.
So in fact, interestingly, statistics say that in India per user traffic on an average will rise to 4.5 gigabyte by 2020 from one gigabyte currently.
In totality, the crux of the matter is how to make unlicensed spectrum cost effective.
Voice&Data: Tell us something about WBA, how does it actually work with operators globally?
Shrikant Shenwai: Wi-fi is a very important catalyst for growth. It has a greater role to play and there’s an area to look at how do you make it easier for customers to use the service and we have focussed on wi-fi and have tried making wi-fi easy to use.
The Tata group was one of the initial members to discuss wi-fi with us and they worked with WBA as they focussed on wi-fi.
Besides, not only operators but vendors like Ericsson, Cisco even Google, Microsoft became the members of WBA as it is an industry body – we do two types of work – one of them is standardization, so if you have to use wi-fi on different operators’ network, how do you make sure that the connectivity is simple and secure and easy to use and at the same time take care of the charging model. That requires someone to facilitate that kind of work.
Our members do a lot of standardization, technical guidance, best practices, and trials to make sure technology can be supported in a consistent way for users.
As an industry body we help stakeholders to come together and for that we have been doing what we call as “wi-fi global congresses”. There are two congresses in a year, which are held in two different parts of the world. One in US and one in Europe and then the purpose is to bring the people together to discuss trends, to discuss what business model works and so there’s a lot of learning.
India, when we started, some engagements were there but these were not robust but all of a sudden in one year, wi-fi has again become talk-of the town. So, that realization is becoming stronger now.
Not just India, globally countries are looking out for public wi-fi for their smart city or connectivity vision. And again for all these one needs to facilitate some of the best practices, especially in the cities there are issues around public private partnership. Cities don’t have all the expertise or resource to do it they have to work with private companies and again WBA has all such companies anyway. Recently, we have launched connected city advisory board, it’s basically a special group within WBA where leaders from cities including CTOs and executives can come together with WBA experts and discuss things.
Voice&Data: In its 12 years of journey, what according to you are the key achievements of WBA?
Shrikant Shenwai: When it comes to the use of wi-fi, we switch on a phone and it connects with the network whether it is domestic or international, what happens behind the scene you don’t want to know because it is somehow transparent it just happens, that’s because someone has done that standardization.
In wi-fi space that kind of stardardization is missing so what WBA has been doing is putting standards in place for industry. So, we have done several programs, one of them is wi-fi roaming, so there is a standard call in wireless roaming, intermediately exchange or risk in short so WBA came out with such standards, and operators around the world are using it and they do roaming with each other with wi-fi.
We have recognized that wi-fi is not necessarily very easy to use and that’s why it’s not available everywhere so again you have to discover the network of connectivity, so we standardize this whole process somehow and besides, there are new wi-fi features that support features such as discovering connectivity. We came out with a program called next generation hot-spot program and this is a program WBA has been running for the last three-four years.
We also work with other industry bodies. GSMA and wi-fi alliance, together we get the vendors who require certain specification for equipment and so these vendors are now going for such equipment where standards are developed by us and implemented. In fact, not just equipment but standardization is required for devices as well.
The device has to figure out how to connect where to connect so companies like Apple, Samsung, LG have also supported this technology. We help them understand how technology works why these are needed and how they should implement it.
Through our experience globally, we plan to bring wi-fi technology to India so that people can use in general. In addition, India will be able to leapfrog in this technology as there’s not too much legacy wi-fi so it’s a good starting point.
Voice&Data: How are you planning to serve the India market?
Shrikant Shenwai: A lot of major telcos who are not a member of WBA are in discussions with us and in special vision forum to be held in Delhi we will bring everyone under one roof.
Regional operators are also keen to work with WBA.
We have some discussions with the Delhi government as well as they were trying to understand how city wi-fi works, what business models are there.
There are almost 50 cities in India with over a million in population. After China, we are the only country to have such a high user base. We have to figure out how connectivity works for them, for that we have set up an advisory board to look at how the cities can sort out their challenges.
India is almost starting from a greenfield phase so that’s a plus point as you don’t have much legacy issues you don’t have to think how do I migrate my hotspots, you can straight away go to the next generation hotspot. So, I think India has not only the potential to learn but also create some new benchmark in leadership in how wi-fi becomes very important in delivering in this Digital India vision.
Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), which is a global strategic alliance with over 100 members, views public wi-fi as a strategic complement to mobile and fixed broadband network. With the government rolling out ‘Smart City’ and ‘Digital India’ programs, WBA is looking at India in a big way and weighing ways in which wi-fi could play a greater role in these projects. Just before the WBA vision forum in Delhi, we caught up with its CEO, Shrikant Shenwai, to know more about its India plans and how wi-fi is becoming the latest talk-of-the town.