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Wi-Fi

Why India's FireFly is of interest to Cisco

Technology giant Cisco is in advanced talks to acquire FireFly Networks, a joint venture between Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, for 2 billion Indian rupees (US$25.26 million), according to media reports.

FireFly was formed in 2014 by two of the top three Indian service providers to create, manage and monetize WiFi hotspots in high-traffic zones like malls, cafes, markets and educational institutes. It has installed networks in 650 locations across 40 cities in 25 states and serves 2.5 million users daily, including 600,000 across 29 airports, according to media reports. The Supreme Court of India, Airport Authority of India and DLF Cyber are just a few of the customers it mentions on its website.

The company has reportedly been scouting for investors for the last two or three years because neither of its partners were willing to invest in strengthening the Wi-Fi infrastructure. Sporadic lockdowns have reduced footfall in airports and other public areas, likely leading to a massive drop in user numbers over the last two years.

While FireFly looked attractive in 2014, when mobile data fees were high and 4G was unavailable, it has lost some of its appeal since Reliance Jio launched low-cost 4G services in 2016. Other telcos have subsequently lowered their fees, too.


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Cisco has been focusing on Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E, new standards that support higher speeds and are likely to play a crucial role in enterprise mobility, particularly in private networks. Some enterprises acquiring spectrum directly could also see Firefly as a useful short-range, indoor complement to the private 5G networks they build for high-speed, low-latency coverage.

The only issue is that India still has to decide whether to de-license the 6GHz spectrum band that supports Wi-Fi. The Department of Telecommunications has already started consultations with industry stakeholders, while Cisco and other technology companies – through the Broadband India Forum – are asking for 1200MHz of spectrum in this range to be de-licensed.

— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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