Blog Past: City Wi-Fi Networks

This idea from 2006 to unwire India will probably get done in a different way (3G, WiMax): “One of the challenges facing India for last mile connectivity to homes and offices is the stranglehold that the government owned telcos (BSNL and MTNL) have. While both are now pushing DSL to the home, the pace of deployment is not as rapid as India needs. In this context, what is interesting are the plans by many cities in the US to deploy wireless networks to provide a blanket of connectivity. This has two implications for India: first, we should be looking at similar technologies and plans; and second, the US deployment (along with usage in other international cities) will drive the cost of equipment lower making it much more affordable. Given India’s lack of legacy network infrastructure, city Wi-Fi networks make a lot of sense.”

In emerging markets like India, there are five elements that need to come together to provide an end-to-end solution for computing and connectivity.

First, build a city-wide wireless mesh network. This will provide the connectivity fabric and provide an alternative to getting DSL or cable (or waiting for WiMax). The key price point for this connectivity needs to be around Rs 200-250 ($4.50-$5.50) per month.

Second, use a variety of access devices to connect to the network. These could be PCs or network computers. (One of the companies I have helped co-found, Novatium, has just such a solution – the Nova NetPC.) We will also see mobile devices like the Nokia 770 and phones with Wi-Fi built in connecting to the mesh network.

Third, provide a backend computing and storage grid. This helps centralise computing and provides for seamless mobility for users. It also makes computing much more affordable and manageable.

Fourth, provide applications and content from a centralised grid to users over the wireless mesh networks.

Finally, use advertising to reduce the price that users have to pay for the service.

The key is to be able to offer the base service for no more than $10 (Rs 450) a month for the entire solution (device, connectivity and services), with additional revenue possible through value-added services.

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