TECH TALK: Technology’s Next Markets: Why WiFi

Tech Talk: What are the alternatives for connectivity? Why are you recommending WiFi?

Deviant Entrepreneur: Of course, there are many options for the last-mile connectivity cable modems, ADSL, leased lines, even dial-up. The first three options require wires/cables to be laid, and that may not always be easy. In todays world, wireless is the way to go that is where innovation is happening at a rapid base, and we want to ride the wave. The backbones, connecting various wireless hubs across neighbourhoods, will have optical fibre. But WiFi remains the best possible option keeping the future in mind.

There are two other reasons for using WiFi. Firstly, it uses open spectrum, so there are no licence fees applicable. In India, the government has still not permitted the use of 2.4 Ghz outside of a local setting, but hopefully, that is likely to happen soon. The 3G-type wireless alternatives require a huge infrastructure and expensive spectrum, which will lead to costly solutions. 3G can be useful for mobility (when the end points are moving), but in our case, that is not a requirement.

This brings us to the second advantage. WiFi enables the build-out of grassroots, bottom-up networks. That was the way the Internet was constructed. Individual entrepreneurs can set up the wireless hubs in their neighbourhoods. That is the way a whole country can be connected up rapidly.

In a white paper on Open Spectrum, Kevin Werbach explodes a number of myths:

Wireless spectrum is scarce: If multiple users were allowed to dynamically share frequency bands, and to employ cooperative techniques to improve efficiency, spectrum could be as abundant as the air in the sky or the water in the ocean.

Massive capital investment is needed to exploit the spectrum: Licensed service providers such as cellular telephone operators and television broadcasters must build out expensive distribution networks before they can deliver services to customers. Often, they must also pay to obtain the spectrum itself in auctions. These huge capital expenditures must be recovered through service fees. In an unlicensed environment, by contrast, access to the airwaves is free and the most significant expensethe intelligent radiosare purchased directly by end-users.

The future of wireless lies in third-generation (3G) systems: 3G represents a useful advance in cellular technology, but it is hardly a panacea. Spectrum and build-out costs for 3G will be enormous. Many of the wireless data services identified with 3G could be more efficiently delivered through short-range and meshed unlicensed technologies, with wide-area 3G service reserved for situations where those alternatives arent available.

Wireless technologies are not viable solutions to the last-mile bottleneck: The last mile does pose special challenges for wireless systems. However, these challenges may be overcome through unlicensed systems that use long-range communications, wideband underlay or meshed architectures. With cable and telephone wires into the home controlled by dominant incumbents, and enormous capital required to extend fiber to every home, open spectrum represents the best hope for a facilities-based broadband alternative.

Emerging markets are years behind on cost-effective, last-mile connectivity solutions need to catch up fast, and WiFi bridges the gap very well, positioning these markets as technology leaders. In fact, it helps them leapfrog to build out a ubiquitous, always-on, broadband wireless network.

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Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.