Carrier WiFi

BSNL Looks to WiFi for Revival

State-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) plans to spend about INR60 billion (US$940 million) on rolling out WiFi hotspots over the next two to three years.

The company, which has been struggling to make profits, hopes that WiFi will help to revive its fortunes.

Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) has already set up around 250 hotspots and aims to increase this number to 2,500 by the end of the current financial year. By 2018, its objective is to have nearly 40,000 WiFi hotspots in operation throughout India.

Besides investing in WiFi, the operator intends to spend heavily on integrating the WiFi network with its 3G and planned 4G infrastructure.

BSNL is not the only service provider now taking an interest in WiFi technology. Facing an acute shortage of spectrum for use with 3G and 4G, operators are looking to use WiFi as a means of offloading mobile data traffic on increasingly congested cellular networks.

Indeed, Tata Teleservices Ltd. , Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL), Vodafone India , Idea Cellular Ltd. and new entrant Reliance Jio are all setting up WiFi hotspots. In the meantime, players such as O-Zone Networks Pvt. Ltd. are also working towards providing ubiquitous WiFi coverage in India, while the Indian government's Digital India plan also prioritizes WiFi. (See Ozone Plans Ubiquitous WiFi in India, Tata Teleservices on Hunt for WiFi Partners and RJio to Drive WiFi Rollout in India.)

BSNL has already rolled out WiFi hotspots at major tourist destinations including the Taj Mahal in Agra and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh and has plans to offer WiFi at other major attractions, including Jagannath temples.

In view of the vast gathering expected later this month for the Kumbh Mela religious event, BSNL has also chosen the city of Nashik (in the state of Maharashtra) as the first city in which it will provide WiFi coverage.

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Elsewhere, BSNL has teamed up with a company called Quadgen Wireless to set up a WiFi network in the south and west of India under a revenue-sharing model, while another partner called Trimax IT Infrastructure and Services will be responsible for deploying a WiFi network in the northern region.

BSNL also aims to hold a tender for a WiFi partner in the eastern and northeastern regions of the country. While it provides the optical fiber connectivity and bandwidth, the private-sector partner will be expected to handle the installation and maintenance of WiFi hotspots for a five-year period.

BSNL had previously tried to develop a WiMax network under a similar public-private partnership, but it scheme failed to fly. One must hope the company is able to make a success of things this time around.

— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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