In wake of Delhi Government’s announcement regarding providing free Wi-Fi in the state, Dataquest spoke to Sanjeev Bobby Sarin, Founder & CEO, Ozone Networks to know more about how the plan will help in fuelling India’s digital journey and how it will impact the service providers. Excerpts
According to you, how important is Wi-Fi in India’s digital empowerment?
Internet penetration in India is still very low if we compare it with the rest of the world. I strongly feel that if India really wants to be a digitally empowered country, Wi-Fi is going to be a key building block as there is a severe lack of infrastructure for home broadband and inconsistent wireless coverage. Availability of Wi-Fi in public places is slowly catching up in India and operators have been actively taking this forward, as there is a realization that home access will be out of reach for the bulk of the population. Wi-Fi is unique as it is an inexpensive data-centric broadband access technology available in the majority of devices shipped today. This makes Wi-Fi a high potential
technology for low cost data access and rural communication services for the masses
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges in the government’s Digital India vision?
I believe Digital India is one of those visionary ideas that have the potential and depth to transform India. The plan is to establish a digital platform to digitally connect and deliver government programs and services to individuals across India, alongside content and services users want to access.
There are undoubtedly a few challenges that need to be addressed if we are to achieve the Digital India goal; infrastructure, neutrality and security being the prime concern. India will need massive data storage, all the data needs to be backed up at an alternate site. This will require huge investments to set up data centers in various parts of the country.
We need to encourage all service providers and partners to educate and embrace users to use the networks, and ensure they have a sustainable business model. So neutrality is key to the roll out of infrastructure. All providers should get access equally to grow Digital India. If we are not inclusive, like other projects in other countries, the project will fail, and it’s too critical to fail. India is a nation where we do not take security seriously, which has left our IT infrastructure defenseless. Securing the data is going to be a huge challenge, but we have talented engineers who I am sure can create an Indian solution to ensure our security.
How will the announcement of free Wi-Fi impact service providers? How will they be able to cover their infrastructure investments?
I would not call the service ‘free Wi-Fi” but instead call it a complimentary Wi-Fi for the customer. At the end of the day nothing is free, as someone has to pay for the network, so we will have advertisers and partners sponsor usage by the customer, so that we can fund operations and grow our network.
I certainly believe that connectivity or Internet has become more of an infrastructure requirement like the road, water and electricity, so the need for Internet is going to be huge. We only have 6% population, which is connected today in a population of 1.27 bn. This leaves out a huge population of around 800-900 mn unconnected.
Again, we also need to understand it that it’s not totally free. Service providers offer complimentary packs to consumers. For instance, for 30 minutes, 60 minutes, 90 minutes and in certain cases even annual packages, depending on the customer preference and usage.
Also, the customer is notified once the complimentary session is over and has the choice to pay and continue. I understand the limitations on the amount of data or time for which this free Internet can be provided. I would also like to add that every industry needs to work with a combination and have a free plus paid model, but at the end all businesses need revenue to survive and grow. At the end of the day, as a service provider one needs to monetize things to cover infrastructure investments and continue to deliver customers a seamless Internet experience, investing in more and more locations to give true access where the user needs it.
Please share your views on how free Wi-Fi will impact mobile data companies.
Wi-Fi has a definite role to play to help improve traffic concerns in certain locations or at certain times of the day and it is the preferred and the primary form of data connection used by many customers. So I would say that globally Wi-Fi is a complimentary part of the data network ecosystem for operators, and India will be no different, as the surge of traffic on mobile networks will need Wi-Fi networks to shoulder the load.