Three Indian telephony and Internet firms are finalizing plans to offer wireless broadband services to retail customers in anticipation of a change in rules that will allow them to do this in a financially viable way.
Reliance Communications Ltd (RCL), Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (VSNL) and Sify Ltd have started planning and setting up wireless-data networks using the so-called Wimax technology in more than 200 cities.
RCL will roll out up to 3,000 base stations in 25 cities by the end of the year; the Tata-run VSNL is in the process of erecting 1,300 wireless broadband towers for retail consumers in five cities; and Internet service provider Sify is working on what it calls a micro-cell-based wireless broadband network for its consumer foray.
Wimax, short for worldwide interoperability for microwave access, is a standard that’s capable of data speeds of 10 megabits per second up to 2km away from a radio transmitter.
The use of wireless services based on open standards such as Wimax will make buying a broadband connection as hassle-free as buying a pre-paid mobile phone connection. Though permitted, the government’s current spectrum policy imposes a recurring charge on Internet service providers (ISPs) for each new base station they put up and restricts the use of wireless broadband to high-volume business users.
Phone firms and ISPs now anticipate a change in the policy soon after the telecom regulator reiterated a September recommendation that spectrum charges on ISPs be converted to the revenue-sharing pattern applicable for telecom operators last month.
The government is conducting tests to decide which spectrum band should be assi-gned to wireless broadband services.
“We will be starting our services with Pune and Bangalore in July,” said Gaurav Wahi, a spokesman for RCL.
According to executives in the industry, Reliance has issued letters of intent to the US Wimax vendors, Telsima Corp. and Aperto Networks, for equipment orders.
RCL, India’s second-largest mobile phone services operator, is expected to putup a Wimax network piggybacking its cellular towers that could cost up to $50 million (Rs205 crore). Wahi declined to confirm these commercial details.
Anil Ambani-led RCL, has been on the look-out for a consumer-grade broadband technology to make inroads into the 2.3 million consumer broadband market, controlled 70% by state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd.
Long-distance telephony company VSNL, which was so far handicapped by the absence of a last-mile connection to reach its consumers, has commissioned 1,300 towers in Bangalore, New Delhi, Hyderabad and two other cities under its first phase for deploying a Wimax-based network.
“In the technology industry, we do not have the option of waiting till the last stone falls into place to come up with a plan,” said VSNL’s head of corporate strategy Srinivasa Addepalli. “Our plan is to be prepared by the time the policy is announced.”
Sify, with a large distribution network of cyber-cafés, has begun work on putting up its own wireless networks atop its retail points. “It is a matter of last mile for us,” said executive vice-president Naresh Ajwani.
“Till now, we were sending Internet wirelessly to our franchisees like cable operators and cyber-cafés,” he added.
Sify plans to install Wimax transmitters atop the cyber cafés and other locations, which will then deliver Internet access to consumers up to 5km away.
Till now, it had to depend on cable operators and its own cables to reach its 2.5 lakh customers.