Wi-Fi Roaming: Leading the Curve in 2017
Date: Tuesday , December 27, 2016
Headquartered in Mumbai, Tata Teleservices is a broadband and telecommunications service provider. It offers multiple tariff plans in both the Post-paid and Pre-Paid category. It also offers Mobile Value Added Services to subscribers.
Wi-Fi roaming on a grand scale is the new order of the day. Connected all the time, all the way, seamlessly and without interruption is the next step in Wi-Fi revolution. Undoubtedly, more and more service providers are now putting Wi-Fi at the heart of their networks and percentage of wireless data travelling over the unlicensed-band technology is only increasing. Over the next couple of years, we envision a nationwide roaming agreement that will provide seamless access to hundreds and thousands of hotspots and homespots. In its paper, citing data from iPass and Maravedis Rethink, TRAI has estimated that currently there are 31,518 public Wi-Fi hotspots installed in India, however, by 2018 this number is expected to grow beyond 202,000 citing a seven-fold increase in the number of public Wi-Fi hotspots.
Earlier this year, Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), an industry association which promotes interoperability among Wi-Fi operators introduced the City WiFi Roaming Project. As a part of the project, WBA announced agreements to allow movement between 20 telecom operators to offer free international public Wi-Fi roaming facilities in several cities around the world. Globally, the project witnessed a roll out of integrated public Wi-Fi roaming in New York, Barcelona, Dublin, Singapore, San Francisco and San Jose. This free seamless Wi-Fi Roaming service between network modes without interruption of the internet connection is based on Next Generation Hotspot (NGH), also known as the Passpoint Technology based on Hotspot 2.0 specifications.
While India represents one sixth of the world population, our share in Wi-Fi hotspots is less than 1/1,000. As public Wi-Fi becomes more important, Next Generation Hotspot (NGH) is the future of Wi-Fi and a key component of India\'s Smart City initiative. As a technology, NGH is brewing across the globe; most major vendors (both network vendors and device manufacturers) already support this technology on the infrastructure level. NGH/Hotspot 2.0 will enable users to connect to a Wi-Fi network automatically, with no need for passwords, usernames and others.. It is only a matter of time before it is fully unleashed and implemented in India to provide a seamless experience by standardizing the process.
At the moment, most of the public Wi-Fi hotspots in the country are venue-based deployments such as at airports and railway stations (0.5 percent), hotels (41 percent) and shopping malls, restaurants, coffee shops, and retail outlets (58 percent). In order to reach the current global benchmark of one hotspot for every 150 citizens, India needs to add approximately eight lakh more hotspots. Most telecom companies in India are now beginning to view public Wi-Fi as complimentary to their core offering and are focusing on deployment of Wi-Fi to offload their cellular data traffic.
An ever-increasing smartphone user base, ease of setting up Wi-Fi hotspots, higher speed coupled with the fact that a significant portion of the population does not have an Internet connection, are key drivers for potential public Wi-Fi hotspots in India. Initiatives from corporates, like that taken by Google for Indian railway stations, are also significant in not just increasing the number of public Wi-Fi hotspots in India but also becoming a preferred route to deploy broadband networks in India. Google\'s free public Wi-Fi service at railway stations went live with Mumbai Central at the beginning of this year. Eleven months on, the services have over 1.5 million people users at 19 railway stations. While Google (in partnership with RailTel, as backhaul provider) is aiming to enable 400 railway stations in India with public Wi-Fi hotspots (with 15 already deployed and being used by over two million people daily), Facebook has partnered with various Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to get its Express Wi-Fi project up and running at the earliest. Facebook\'s Express Wi-Fi project which rolled out 125 rural public Wi-Fi hotspots with BSNL as a part of their Pilot project is aimed at making broadband in rural areas more affordable. Hence, a balanced public-private partnership model is the way forward in the coming few years. Such a partnership between the government, the internet and Wi-Fi service providers contributes significantly to a digitally empowered India. It takes care of challenges involving public body clearances, network deployment logistics, significant marketing budgets, and distribution channel set-up to reach the end consumer.