A Small Step into the W Zone

Of a hundred large-enterprise CIOs we polled, five were Wi-Fi users. Many
didn’t know it was okay to use Wi-Fi indoors without a license, or that it
cost just Rs 5,000 and five minutes to W-enable a conference room (as we have
done at each of our own offices at CyberMedia).

India is way behind the W-curve. We don’t use wireless data. Wi-Fi hot
spots are confined to a few hotels. Mobile service operators do not sell data
offerings. So laptop usage too remains low. And the emerging global area of
wireless apps has left India’s services industry behind.

Yet Wi-Fi is showing up in a few apps. Such as the Sahara sons’ (in)famous
mega-wedding in Lucknow in February, where the thousands of invitation cards had
RFID chips. Access control devices at each gate were linked via Wi-Fi notebooks.
By the way, this violates the law, which allows only indoor use without a
license. But then, when I work on my laptop outdoors, I violate the same law.

Project W aims to bridge these gaps, and promote wireless data use in the
country.

This CyberMedia project kicked off with a Voice&Data panel discussion on
"Unwiring India: What can we do to catch up?" in February. With
panelists from the WPC and ICT Ministry to vendors and service providers, the
debate at the closed-door event itself highlighted the gaps that need to be
bridged.

First, the facts: Wi-Fi is legal. You can deploy 802.11b indoor without a
license. But you need a license for outdoor use, or for 802.11g indoor (in the
same 2.4GHz bands, which are mostly free to air worldwide), or for 802.11a.

What the panel did agree on is about the big gaps that need to be bridged, so
that CIOs, vendors and dealers are on one wavelength on the benefits of Wi-Fi.
Especially as the technology becomes cheap and embedded into most new laptops.
And Rs 50k laptops flood the market, cracking the low-population problem.

We also agreed that regulatory issues need to be eased, including licensing
procedures, which can take up to a year.

For the service providers such as Sify and Bharti, the tough nut to crack is
the business model, so that hot spots are viable. Sadly, while the world is
filled with examples like Singapore Changi airport which went all out promoting
Wi-Fi as a competitive edge, service providers in India face an uphill struggle
simply convincing Delhi and other airport authorities to try a Wi-Fi pilot
project.

India’s seen the miracle of wireless in voice. Eight out of 10 new phone
connections are wireless. In 2004-05, expect the same thing to happen with data.
Project W is the first step.

Prasanto K Roy

 

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