TRAI commences exercise to explore growth of internet through Wi-fi networks

NEW DELHI: Noting that Wi-Fi networks offer affordable, scalable and versatile technologies that can facilitate the spread of Internet access in rural and urban areas alike, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India today issued a consultation paper on Proliferation of Broadband through Public Wi-Fi Networks.

Through a set of twelve questions, the Authority has sought to get the opinion of stakeholders including internet and telecom service providers on how best Wi-fi (an acronym for Wireless Fidelity) can grow in the country. Comments have been invited by 10 August with counter-comments by 24 August.

At the outset, the regulator has noted that the growth of Internet penetration in India and realisation of its full potential is closely tied to the proliferation of broadband services. “Broadband” is currently defined to mean a data connection that is able to support interactive services, including Internet access, with the capability of a minimum download speed of 512 kbps. It therefore refers to a means of delivering high-speed Internet access services.

Broadband services can be delivered through a number of different access technologies, both wired and wireless, including Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL), optical fibre technology, cable TV networks and mobile broadband services like 2G/3G/4G. In addition to these, radio frequency signals (or spectrum) can also be used for the creation of “wireless local area networks” (WLANs), offering an effective mechanism for extending the "last-mile connectivity" of broadband connections to a wider segment of users.

Trai says Modern technology makes it possible to integrate a server with high storage capacity with the Wi-Fi hotspot equipment. As the cost of such servers has come down significantly, along with the cost of storage, and the form factors of such devices are very small, it should be possible to cache or download content for easy browsing even when the backhaul connectivity is not available. Such an arrangement can find great application in storing children’s study materials, educational data, agricultural and health related information, as well as movies and entertainment content, for the benefit of Wi-Fi users in areas with irregular connectivity, such as rural areas.

The regulator said that strictly speaking, Wi-Fi is a certification provided by the Wireless Broadband Alliance1 (WBA), which owns and controls the “Wi-Fi Certified” logo that can be applied to products that satisfy certain interoperability criteria.

WBA is a non-profit organization, formed in 1999, that promotes Wi-Fi technology and certifies Wi-Fi products if they conform to certain standards of interoperability.

The questions raised by Trai are:

Q1. Are there any regulatory issues, licensing restrictions or other factors that are hampering the growth of public Wi-Fi services in the country?

Q2. What regulatory/licensing or policy measures are required to encourage the deployment of commercial models for ubiquitous city-wide Wi-Fi networks as well as expansion of Wi-Fi networks in remote or rural areas?

Q3. What measures are required to encourage interoperability between the Wi-Fi networks of different service providers, both within the country and internationally?

Q4. What measures are required to encourage interoperability between cellular and Wi-Fi networks?

Q5. Apart from frequency bands already recommended by TRAI to DoT, are there additional bands which need to be de-licensed in order to expedite the penetration of broadband using Wi-Fi technology?

Q6. Are there any challenges being faced in the login/authentication procedure for access to Wi-Fi hotspots? In what ways can the process be simplified to provide frictionless access to public Wi-Fi hotspots, for domestic users as well as foreign tourists?

Q7. Are there any challenges being faced in making payments for access to Wi-Fi hotspots? Please elaborate and suggest a payment arrangement which will offer frictionless and secured payment for the access of Wi-Fi services.

Q8. Is there a need to adopt a hub-based model along the lines suggested by the WBA, where a central third party AAA (Authentication, Authorization and Accounting) hub will facilitate interconnection,
authentication and payments? Who should own and control the hub? Should the hub operator be subject to any regulations to ensure service standards, data protection, etc?

Q9. Is there a need for ISPs/ the proposed hub operator to adopt the Unified Payment Interface (UPI) or other similar payment platforms for easy subscription of Wi-Fi access? Who should own and control such payment platforms?

Q10. Is it feasible to have an architecture wherein a common grid can be created through which any small entity can become a data service provider and able to share its available data to any consumer or user?

Q11. What regulatory/licensing measures are required to develop such architecture? Is this a right time to allow such reselling of data to ensure affordable data tariff to public, ensure ubiquitous presence of Wi-Fi Network and allow innovation in the market?

Q12. What measures are required to promote hosting of data of community interest at local level to reduce cost of data to the consumers?

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