The internet usage patterns and predictions for India highlight that the demand for constant connectivity and internet continues to grow precipitously. The attractive demographics, popularity of internet apps, e-commerce, IoT and inception of smart buildings-clusters-cities are some of the major factors behind it. The businesses around the world have started observing WiFi as a critical part of customers’ experience as it allows them to engage existing ones and attract more. Additionally, government initiatives like “Digital India” which aim at transforming the entire ecosystem of public services by extending governance and citizen services through broadband highways and public internet access programmes, take the connectivity challenge to a higher level.
WiFi is a crucial factor in upcoming developments, especially as cities and businesses increasingly leverage connectivity for monitoring, entertainment, engagement and analytics. However, as Wi-Fi only remains as a way to connect to the internet, the developments seem farfetched.
So far, enterprise class broadband services have been rendered only to large customers, missing significantly large chunk of the market comprising of companies with less than 100 employees which adds up to around 94% of total companies in India. While a large segment of potential users remain unserved, majority from the exception are under-served and suffer with poor service levels and high costs.
With only 4% of total internet subscribers (~ 400 million) for higher bandwidth (>512 kbps), India significantly lags behind in broadband and connectivity penetration. Even though pricing for entry level plans offering low bandwidth has declined, poor wireline infrastructure with continuous buildout is leading to the highest broadband tariffs in the world for high speed and usage customers.
While the cell phone operators in India are contemplating next generation wireless technologies like WIMAX and 4G to create “last mile” access to the customer, the limited backhaul capacity which barely only supports voice needs considerable upgradation in order to be able to support broadband data. The untapped rural market of 833 Million population in more than half a million villages across the country is arguably the most suitable example of the “last mile” connectivity bottleneck. Moreover, high customer equipment costs for WiMax/4G are unviable for low affordability driven Indian market.
Establishing new wirelines can be a solution but owing to the setup and maintenance costs and expanding “community networks”, it is neither cost-effective nor most practical. “Community Networks” can effectively resolve the last mile bottleneck. Cable has 71m household that can be connected through broadband. Largely unorganised cable market is already forming consortium to provide broadband services. GoI mandated digitization of television network has resulted in conversion of more than 30 m households to digital in two phases with 40m to be converted in subsequent phases. About 100,000 Local Cable Operators (LCOs) control the last mile and in the digital scenario the Multi-Service Operators (MSOs) are reaching the customers through joint ventures with LCOs.
Led by television, India’s media and entertainment industry is poised for strong growth. This has created an opportunitiy for entrepreneurs in the internet business sphere to come up with innovative solutions by leveraging the “Cable Networks” to scale the last mile and unlicensed spectrum using WiFi to connect the last individual.