WiFi to scale the last mile

“Com­mu­nity Net­works” can ef­fec­tively re­solve the last mile bot­tle­neck

Voice&Data - - CONTENT - San­jay Sharma

The in­ter­net us­age pat­terns and pre­dic­tions for In­dia high­light that the de­mand for con­stant con­nec­tiv­ity and in­ter­net con­tin­ues to grow pre­cip­i­tously. The at­trac­tive de­mo­graph­ics, pop­u­lar­ity of in­ter­net apps, e-com­merce, IoT and in­cep­tion of smart build­ings-clus­ters-cities are some of the major fac­tors be­hind it. The busi­nesses around the world have started ob­serv­ing WiFi as a crit­i­cal part of cus­tomers’ ex­pe­ri­ence as it al­lows them to en­gage ex­ist­ing ones and at­tract more. Ad­di­tion­ally, gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tives like “Dig­i­tal In­dia” which aim at trans­form­ing the en­tire ecosys­tem of public ser­vices by ex­tend­ing gov­er­nance and ci­ti­zen ser­vices through broad­band high­ways and public in­ter­net ac­cess pro­grams, take the con­nec­tiv­ity chal­lenge to a higher level.

The Chal­lenge

WiFi is a cru­cial fac­tor in up­com­ing de­vel­op­ments, espe­cially as cities and busi­nesses in­creas­ingly lever­age con­nec­tiv­ity for mon­i­tor­ing, en­ter­tain­ment, en­gage­ment and an­a­lyt­ics. How­ever, as Wi-Fi only re­mains as a way to con­nect to the in­ter­net, the de­vel­op­ments seem far fetched.

So far, en­ter­prise class broad­band ser­vices have been ren­dered only to large cus­tomers, miss­ing sig­nif­i­cantly large chunk of the market com­pris­ing companies with less than 100 em­ploy­ees, which adds up to around 94% of to­tal companies in In­dia. While a large seg­ment of po­ten­tial users re­main un­served, ma­jor­ity from the ex­cep­tion are un­der­served and suf­fer with poor ser­vice lev­els and high costs.

With only 4% of to­tal in­ter­net sub­scribers (~ 400 mil­lion) for higher band­width (>512 kbps), In­dia sig­nif­i­cantly lags be­hind in broad­band and con­nec­tiv­ity pen­e­tra­tion. Even though pric­ing for en­try-level plans of­fer­ing low band­width has de­clined, poor wire­line in­fra­struc­ture with con­tin­u­ous build­out is lead­ing to the high­est broad­band tariffs in the world for high speed and us­age cus­tomers.

The So­lu­tion

While the cell phone op­er­a­tors in In­dia are con­tem­plat­ing next gen­er­a­tion wire­less tech­nolo­gies like WIMAX and 4G to cre­ate “last mile” ac­cess to the cus­tomer, the lim­ited back­haul ca­pac­ity, which barely only sup­ports voice needs con­sid­er­able upgra­da­tion in or­der to be able to sup­port broad­band data. The un­tapped ru­ral market of 833 mil­lion in more than half-a-mil­lion vil­lages across the coun­try is ar­guably the most suit­able ex­am­ple of the “last mile” con­nec­tiv­ity bot­tle­neck. More­over, high cus­tomer equip­ment costs for WiMax/4G are un­vi­able for low af­ford­abil­ity driven In­dian market.

Es­tab­lish­ing new wire­lines can be a so­lu­tion but ow­ing to the setup and main­te­nance costs and ex­pand­ing “com­mu­nity net­works”, it is nei­ther cost-ef­fec­tive nor most prac­ti­cal. “Com­mu­nity Net­works” can ef­fec­tively re­solve the last mile bot­tle­neck. Cable has 71 mil­lion house­holds that can be con­nected through broad­band. Largely un­or­ga­nized cable market is al­ready form­ing con­sor­tium to pro­vide broad­band ser­vices. Gov­ern­ment of In­dia man­dated dig­i­ti­za­tion of television net­work has re­sulted in con­ver­sion of more than 30 mil­lion house­holds to dig­i­tal in two phases with 40 mil­lion to be con­verted in sub­se­quent phases. About 100,000 Local Cable Op­er­a­tors (LCOs) con­trol the last mile and in the dig­i­tal sce­nario the Multi-Ser­vice Op­er­a­tors (MSOs) are reach­ing the cus­tomers through joint ven­tures with LCOs. Led by television, In­dia’s me­dia and en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try is poised for strong growth. This has cre­ated an op­por­tu­nity for en­trepreneurs in the in­ter­net busi­ness sphere to come up with in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions by lever­ag­ing the “Cable Net­works” to scale the last mile and un­li­censed spec­trum us­ing WiFi to con­nect the last in­di­vid­ual. (The au­thor San­jay Sharma is MD, Clou­datix) vndedit@cy­ber­me­dia.co.in

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