Wi-Fi gaining traction in India

Sridhar Pai
10 May 2011
Down south, Zylog’s Wi5 is making waves with a 100% pre-paid model which has a combined subscriber base of over 30,000. Tonse believes that Zylog probably has cracked the Wi-Fi base station pricing model better than anyone else and is able to setup a POP at the lowest cost per subscriber, using a combination of own software plus third party hardware.
Zylog has even penetrated tier 2 towns and if offering fail-safe Wi-Fi in over 150 locations. Plans are afoot to grow to 179 locations and 100,00 subscribers by year end. Zylog Wi-Fi generated a top line of about $5.15 million.
Indian cellular operators have suddenly more respect for the relatively smaller Wi-Fi counterparts. While initially these free-to-air spectrum operators were considered yet another enterprise customer who would buy bulk bandwidth, the relationship is now more symbiotic.
Wi-Fi ISPs are now more likely to carry access traffic from larger captive Wi-Fi base than pricey data plans from cellular operators. Besides, retail outlets are willing to make room for Wi-Fi gear as the added attraction of offering Wi-Fi soon becomes a ‘must have’.
But perhaps an even bigger opportunity lies shrouded under clouds: wholesale Wi-Fi offload. Instead of creating multiple small regional Wi-Fi PoPs and creating several bilateral relationships with individual mobile operators, a large scale, carrier-class wholesale Wi-Fi model should emerge in India.
With only a fraction of 3G sites just lit up, none of the TD-LTE / BWA offerings live and mobile data traffic beginning to grow in volume, it is but a matter of months before a large scale data explosion becomes a reality.
If a large nationwide Wi-Fi network is built out and a ‘LightSquared-like’ wholesale model is launched, it should have plenty of takers.
After a BWA spectrum auction that generated billions in revenues to the government a business model around unlicensed spectrum that is non-retail suddenly seems lot more appealing for this bandwidth hungry nation.
Sridhar Pai runs wireless research & consulting businessTonse Telecom from Bengaluru, India


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