Wi-Fi on Tap


Rates for 3G access plans in Mumbai have been slashed by 70 percent, yet I do not see our young workforce upgrading to 3G in droves. It may be a slice of high networth individuals that have gone 3G, but not a chunk of the smart phone user base. And 3G access continues to be spotty, with weak signals in the far flung areas of the city, but stronger access at the business hubs. I think Wi-Fi access would be a more viable option for the average smart device owner, but why hasn’t a service provider jumped at the opportunity?

I read Ajit Ranade’s article “STD booths as Wi-Fi hotspots” in Mumbai Mirror (14 July) with interest. In his Edit piece Ranade suggests that STD booths can be converted to Wi-Fi hotspots with a subsidy from the municipality. He recalls India’s first telecom revolution (1980s) and the proliferation of the PCO (Public Call Office) booths — (thanks to Sam Pitroda). Remember the bright yellow, dinky booths with the words ‘ISD-STD-PCO’ printed in bold letters? Well, that’s a rare sight today, and all that remains are chunky plastic coin-operated phones in local Kirana stores (who uses them anyway?)

Perhaps those booths can be resurrected, with the ISD-STD-PCO acronyms replaced with the ‘Wi-Fi Zone’ logo defined by the Wi-Fi Alliance. Another opportunity for Public-Private-Partnership?

Earlier this year, I was touring Silicon Valley in a mid-sized bus. I joined a team of tech journalists from Brazil and Mexico. The journey from San Francisco to Silicon Valley took around two hours. These journalists passed time by filing stories on their laptops. As I entered the bus, I noticed the ‘Wi-Fi Zone’ logo painted on the door, suggesting the availability of free Wi-Fi access on board! And it worked! Now, how did they manage that?

Some Indian airports offer free Wi-Fi access. I am also aware that airlines in the league of Emirates offer Internet access on board. And of course, you couldn’t miss Wi-Fi at a Starbucks café abroad.

When I visit companies in India for meetings, I notice that many offer Wi-Fi access with guest log-ins. That’s handy for quickly surfing the company site for some last minute preparation, while waiting in the lobby or reception area. And you can’t miss young executives with their shiny laptops in front of them at the food court at Inorbit Mall in Mumbai (a Wi-Fi Zone).

Well, that’s a good start. But I am hoping to see more Wi-Fi hotspots in our Indian cities and offices.

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