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Will RIL’s 4G Rollout Be Able To Transform Public WiFi In India?

It looks like Reliance Industries (RIL) is planning to roll out its much awaited 4G service in Mumbai and Delhi in mid 2013, according to an Economic Times report.

How RIL Is Setting It Up

Tie-ups: As per the report, RIL has inked contracts with Ericsson and Samsung to build the network, IBM for IT integration and Microsoft for security solutions. RIL has also apparently started laying optical fibre cable network in Mumbai and Delhi and has inked a contract with Himachal Futuristic Communications Ltd (HFCL) for this purpose, which in turn has tied up with companies like Alcatel Lucent and and Infinera. It also added that RIL-subsidiary Rancore Technlogies was in charge of conducting 4G trials.

MiFi Devices: The report also mentions RIL’s plans to launch MiFi devices which will convert the 4G signal to a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot, allowing users to access 4G speeds across various Internet enabled devices on the go. This strategy makes sense since that 4G-compatible handsets and tablets which support India’s 4G network aren’t available in the market yet. Airtel had also offered multi-mode USB dongles and a Indoor Wireless gateway, when it launched its 4G service last April.

Who Is Heading It?

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Earlier this month, Ajit Nazre, a former partner with the venture fund Kliener Perkins Caufield and Byers (KPCB), and Arvind Rao, former CEO of mobile VAS company OnMobile Global, had joined Reliance Industries in an advisory capacity for the company’s 4G rollout. While both Nazre and Rao had separately confirmed this development to MediaNama, they had declined to comment on the exact nature of their roles. We had heard from sources that Rao was looking into value added services strategy and content partnerships for the 4G rollout while Nazre was looking at corporate strategy and was looking into the creation of a consumer centric and open ecosystem for content and services, but Nazre had denied it.

Additionally, the ET report suggests that Reliance Retail CEO Manoj Modi is currently leading RIL’s 4G rollout while Mathew Oomen, who was previously the CTO at Sprint Nextel, is the operational head of the 4G rollout. Other prominent members in the team include Kiran Thomas, Assistant Vice President at Reliance Industries Ltd who is reportedly assisting Oomen in the 4G rollout and Sumit Chowdhury who was appointed as the Chief Information Officer at Reliance Infotel Broadband in September 2012 and is currently overlooking RIL’s systems, technology and product platforms.

Poor Public WiFi Scenario And How RIL Could Change It

What’s particularly interesting is that RIL is apparently planning to launch large scale WiFi networks in Mumbai and Delhi. Citing executives aware of the company’s plans, the report stated that RIL has inked a contract with Ericsson to set up around 30,000 Wi-Fi hotspots across commercial buildings, offices and malls in these regions. This, if true, could turn out to be a really significant development considering the poor availability of public Wi-Fi hotspots in the country.

Aircel had started rolling out WiFi hotspots in February 2011 and had claimed to have 50,000 WiFi Zones across India, however the telco has stopped promoting the service during the past year and it is not clear on where the initiative stands at the time of writing this article. Besides this, companies like Spectranet and O-Zone Networks also offers public wi-fi hotspots across various locations like Barista, McDonalds (pdf), Hard Rock Cafe, DLF Malls, Ansal Plaza, Trident Hotels among others, but the coverage is quite limited. Sify and Tata Indicom had also tried paid WiFi rollouts in the past, with little success.

What we’d like to see is RIL emulating the Starbucks-AT&T model in the United States, by tying up with various coffee shops like Cafe Coffee Day, Barista, Costa Coffee, and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf as well as do tie-ups with malls and hotels. However, it’s worth noting that these public hotspots could be subjected to India’s Cybercafe rules since according to the IT Act, a Cyber Cafe would mean any facility from where access to the Internet is offered by any person on the ordinary course of business to the members of the public. These rules also direct cyber cafes to obtain ID proofs from users, maintain logs of websites visited by users and to be equipped with the safety/filtering software to the avoid access to the websites relating to pornography, obscenity, terrorism etc.

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Additionally, if WiFi hotspots do become ubiquitous in the country, it could also possibly reduce the burden from the overburdened 3G networks, by offloading it to these Wi-Fi hotspots.


RIL Will Not Partner With R-Com For 4G Services; Plans To Make Mobile Handsets: Report
RIL Led Consortium Bids For Security Project In Mumbai
RIL To Start 4G Trials In Jamnagar Next Month: Report
RIL To Offer 4G Internet Services At Rs10/GB; Tablets At Rs 3,500: Report; Our Take

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