The last-mile connectivity problem in India is severe. With the telecom policy mired in confusion, it is time to look at technology to overcome this hurdle. We need bandwidth – international, domestic and local (last-mile). While the first two can be solved with optical fibre, the only practical last-mile solution is wireless. The next year will see a lot of action on both fronts. Because of the lack of widespread wireline infrastructure, India has a great opportunity to leapfrog into the wireless age.
Let us start with cellphones and the mobile Internet. Many of the cellcos are planning to roll out 2.5G (GPRS) networks. These networks will offer connectivity of 64 Kbps. The driver for these networks has to be data (current networks are quite adequate for voice). The connected consumer will create new marketing opportunities for companies. A key application could be stock-trading, from anywhere, and at anytime. Electronic coupons, alerts, real-time messaging will be the other drivers.
For corporates, wireless broadband solutions like LMDS and MMDS offer opportunities to get multi-megabit bandwidth to the office LAN – quickly and reliably. 2001 will see pilots and perhaps the first of these services offered in selected areas of some cities in India.
Uptake should be rapid from corporates long-deprived of high-speed bandwidth. Short-distance wireless technologies like Bluetooth and 802.11b (wireless LAN) can help transform the office environment, and do away with the bane of wires. This will be the starting point for the intelligent enterprise.
India also offers interesting options for creative peer-to-peer communications networks. Imagine if there were the wireless relays available at multiple places in an area, like post offices, railway stations, petrol pumps, banks, or even STD booths. A Big, People’s Network in every city, in some ways. You are walking around your own wireless handheld device (for which you are paying a rental of Rs 200 a month). You would connect to one of those relays which could route the packets among themselves, till one of them is in a position to send it to the Net. This means, one of the relays in that neighbourhood needs to be connected say over a telephone line or a cable to the Net. The hybrid of last-mile wireless (LAN protocol) and wireline (infrastructure already in place) could help create a very low-cost network, a communications-equivalent of Linux!