Google's Investment in India's Public WiFi Infrastructure: A Waste of Time & Money?

Back when WiFi and 3G were young, operators and vendors were trying to figure out if and how wide local area network (WLAN) and cellular technologies would coexist. They were wondering whether WiFi would dominate, whether cellular networks would sweep all other wireless technologies before them and what either outcome would mean for their strategies. (I know this because I was sitting in a room with very many of them, running scenarios to think through the possibilities.)

What came to pass was a pretty harmonious mix.

Fast forward nearly 20 years. As operators collectively spend billions of dollars on deployment of Long Term Evolution Advanced (LTE-A) and soon 5G networks, some pundits have suggested that in the context of 5G, with all-you-can-eat mobile data packages, the days of WiFi might be numbered.

Google, however, does not seem convinced. As part of its "Next Billion Users" project, Google has been installing public WiFi hotspots at over 400 railway stations throughout India. Over 8 million users per month are already using the service, which gives 30 minutes of free Internet access, consuming 350 MB per session, with more than half of them active for more than one session in a day. Next Google plans to install additional hotspots in city locations around the country.

Is its effort a waste of capital? Mobile services are not going to compete with that any time soon. Google, of course, has an alternative revenue source -- advertising -- that clearly helps to justify its expenditure here. The same is also true of other independent WiFi providers, of which there are many, city and government investors with other business models in mind and of cable operators seeking to make their fixed broadband services more attractive.

Instead, perhaps it is would-be 5G cellular network operators who have got it all wrong? They are planning dense deployments of millions of 5G small and micro cells to deliver their next-generation services, including in homes and business where WiFi has traditionally been strong and in busy urban areas where WiFi hotspots are being installed.

Heavy Reading's latest report WiFi Prospects in a 5G World explores recent patterns in WiFi deployment and improvements to the technology. It reviews the likely impact of business models, installed base of legacy infrastructure and vested interests -- all of which will influence the evolution of the market – and considers how WiFi and 5G are likely to fit together in the coming years.

— Simon Sherrington, Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading

Infostack 6/10/2018 | 6:50:28 PM
Ghost of Steve Jobs We need to learn from history if we are not to repeat it's mistakes or failures.  The fact of the matter is that without Steve Jobs and ubiquitous (equal access) across private and public frequencies for iOS, the smartphone revolution and application explosion wouldn't have created the demand pull-through for 4G.  So rather than see wifi as competitive, analysts and carriers would well embrace a hybrid (public/private) strategy.  Simply put the vertically integrated edge access wireless carriers are not in a position to densify the edge profitably without different business strategies.
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