How big is the opportunity for providing public Wi-Fi in India?
Wi-Fi is a complimentary technology to wireless and wireline. And the availability
of Internet through Wi-Fi becomes most relevant for nomadic customers who visit a place for a fairly longish period of time in one location such as airports, shopping malls, or other public places. There is a lot more head room available for growth of public Wi-Fi and it clearly gets reflected in the data. It is one of those enabling technologies which will keep becoming more and more prolific as time goes by. Today, a large number of state administrators, central government departments, and ministries have been talking about providing Wi-Fi to their constituencies. So, there is a very large interest out there but considering the geography of our country, it will take its own time for roll out to happen.
Can you name a few customers of yours with whom you have engaged for setting up public Wi-Fi systems?
We are an Internet service provider to major airports of India, eg, Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kolkata, etc. The only exception I believe is Mumbai. Other than airports, last year in November, we worked together with NDMC and made Connaught Place live, both inner as well as outer circle. Apart from this, there are many other opportunities we are currently engaged upon with various governments and ministries.
Do you believe that public Wi-Fi systems can play an integral part of the Digital India mission? If yes, please let us know the reasons for your belief?
Certainly yes! An easy access to high speed Internet is a bedrock of Digital India, it is the fundamental layer. Everything will be built on top of that. And this can be levered through multiple technologies—Cellular, fixed, and Wi-Fi, and there could be more as we go along. Within this, Wi-Fi has a much significant role to play especially for what I was referring to as a nomadic use case. Smartphones have Wi-Fi built in and today, people while searching in the hierarchy of need put Wi-Fi as their top priority, even food and water are below that. So, I think technology awareness is out there to a large number of people and very clearly in the urban areas. And it is here to stay as it will be a very important part of the entire complement of technologies.
How do you see rural India as a market for providing public Wi-Fi service? Is it the government or the private sector showing more traction for public Wi-Fi service?
I think the benefits of Internet will reach rural India very clearly. Though there would be a requirement to bring in vernacular access at some stage due to our country’s large dimensions. And the demand would be so large that it will overwrite everything else, but all this will take time. For instance, if we look at how cellular telephone got rolled out—it started from metros and then it penetrated to the next level of towns and so on and so forth. Probably, this will follow a similar approach, maybe a lot faster. With a country of ours magnitude of size, one cannot cover the entire nation overnight. It will certainly be a gradual program. Since a large part of India lives in rural areas, there are tremendous opportunities that will open up. There are studies also, which show the linkage of how when more and more population in a country gets access to Internet and what would be the impact on the GDP of the country. There are enough and more of such studies which very clearly shows that the correlation is positive. Both the government as well as the private sector are keen on setting up public Wi-Fi service.
How do you differentiate yourself from your competitors and how is the whole ecosystem developing?
Competition is always welcomed. But the whole situation of Wi-Fi in public places is pretty much nascent in India. Every time a new competitor comes in, it generates awareness and brings in more customers and hence more used cases which consequently helps in expanding the market.
To provide this high speed Internet experience, one needs the backbone of fiber and our group company Tata Communications do it for us as it has a large amount of infrastructure out there in the curve. The second is the customer experience we offer. The customer is not bothered about what technology is serving him. What he/she wants to care about is: Is he getting good speed Internet access, is it easy to use, and is it consistent. So, this whole process of customer experience is extremely important and perhaps not easily understood by everybody, and we have built it over a period of time. We have built up the knowledge, tools, as well as the people expertise which allows us to provide good customer experience consistently. It is the same set of vendors who supply to all the players. So, what is really differentiating is how you put the whole thing together and give an offering to the customer that they like. We let our customers decide by letting them know every offer in the market and let them figure out the best offering to use. There are two major things which differentiate us: The first is the physical infrastructure of our wireline and the second is little bit intangible but very important piece of the ability to deliver consistent customer experience. All this doesn’t get built in a day and you have to constantly be at it.