Guest Commentary: Details on the Pune, India wireless network

Our guest commentary this week comes from Upasna Kakroo, who writes about the Unwire Pune project of the Pune Municipal Corporation and the issues that people need to consider in unwiring communities in India. There are a lot of wide-area wireless broadband deployments in India right now and we plan to cover India more extensively on Muniwireless.com.
Oft referred to as the “The Queen of the Deccan”,the western city of Pune, India has had a glorious past. With its growth into a major IT hub and a student city with a high e-Literacy rate, Pune also has the distinction of having the largest Internet user base in India.

The Pune Municipal Corporation PMC has announced the Unwire Pune project, with Intel Technologies Ltd. as the chief technology and program management consultant. This project is aimed at making 400 square kilometers of the city along with adjacent areas of Pimpri and Chinchwad wireless. Intel would be deploying the Wi-Fi and WiMax technologies. The goal is to provide seamless connectivity to citizens, businesses and academic institutions.

Intel would be responsible for developing an extensible, high performance technical architecture and detailed design to suit the PMC’s requirements. Intel would also be responsible for informing and educating the PMC by various workshops and training programs. PMC has set apart an initial estimate of 70 million INR for the project.

Apart from the push by the corporation, Pune has been selected over a lot of cities like Hyderabad and Bangalore, mainly because of its small size. PMC is planning to build 10 WiMax towers and 800 Wi-Fi hotspots in the city. After the technical survey is done (by Intel), which has an estimated time of 2-3 months, tenders would be opened for implementation of the plan. Initially free access to low end users and charges to high end users (with high bandwidth usage) are planned. The identity of the ISP hasn’t been decided yet. According to specifications from PMC, the backbone wireless communication infrastructure network for the whole area considered would result in ubiquitous connectivity. Within 100 square kilometers of the metropolis area, the bandwidth available per user would be 128kbps. It would take about 12 months for the project to be completed. The technology to be used for Wi-Fi would be IEEE 802.11g standard, which has backward compatibility with 802.11b-only clients also. It would mean a data rate of 54Mbps, according to specifications. There would be 99% uptime and the frequency band used would be 2.4 Ghz. For WiMax IEEE 802.16e standards would be used.

Interestingly, the city of Pune will be holding the Commonwealth youth games in 2008, and infrastructure development is a priority to the PMC, this being the biggest sporting event being organized by the city which will be a major push towards the tourism, hospitality and allied industries, and to be able to rake in the benefits of the same, the city will have to be prepared for it.

Wi-Fi is being looked upon as an investment into the infrastructure in this direction too, and its successful implementation would go towards realizing the benefits of the games in the city. This would also give the city an impression of being futuristic in its adoption of new technologies. Applications like voice over Wi-Fi, video mails, distance learning will be possible once the project is complete. Health services and social workers will be able to take a virtual hospital or clinic out to their patients instantly.

The PMC expects every citizen of Pune to use the Wi-Fi network. Visitors to the city can access the Internet with a temporary account provided to them.

This plan is optimistic and ambitious. Even though in comparison to the rest of the country, the city of Pune economically is placed very high, having the highest per capita income, amidst all the positive figures another one that also catches attention is that, 40% of the city population lives in slums. Under these circumstances, it’s clear that people who lack basic facilities are unlikely to be interested in wireless. They can’t even buy laptops.

Another factor to consider is that not everyone in the city is literate, making mass adoption of Wi-Fi impossible. A large section of the population in the city is not well versed in English. Local language interfaces will have to be used and content created by the city must be bilingual. Interestingly even the website of the PMC maintained by the statistics and computer department of the city is not bilingual.

Political and bureaucratic delays have often led to faulty or slow implementation of various policies in the city. PMC has been riddled with controversies often in case of infrastructure development.

The download speeds of wireless internet (using Wi-Fi) are still doubtful and would specially effect high population density areas of the city where the bandwidth sharing would mean low speeds. The poor deployment of Wi-Fi so far in the country has meant that ISPs have backed out. WiMax claims are still thought as being optimistic by researchers.

These factors will be important while considering the adoption of the technology. As confirmed by the PMC in Pune, there are ongoing issues with spectrum availability, which they claim have been sorted, but they seemed to have surfaced out again, as Intel stated the fact that the PMC had not decided on the spectrum availability issue. The government policymakers are not sure if WiMax allocation is a priority issue or not especially as the rest of the country is struggling to provide enough bandwidth for high speed broadband connection.

Throughout the world various business models have been experimented with, in the case of Wi-Fi, and nothing as yet can guarantee success. Large scale Wi-Fi deployments have only had moderate success contrary to initial industry claims. WiMax deployments have hardly started. The model to be chosen would have to be such that it can keep lower prices, while ensuring competition. Projects should also able to fund themselves, keeping capital reserves for future network upgrades.

It was stated that the pricing would be such that it is less than the current prices for broadband and also that only high bandwidth users will be charged higher prices. This however, would mean that unless the project is a huge success, it will be hard to sustain.

With multitudes of issues related to the project, it is not easy to tell if it will succeed. Projects may well be successful on paper, but they will be a real success only when they would cater to the relevant target groups.

By Upasna Kakroo

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About the author: Upasna Kakroo is an Electronics and Communication engineer (from College of Engineering, Pune) and has a master’s in Communication Technology and Policy (from University of Strathclyde, UK). She has researched extensively on the Indian Telecom sector and on the state of Wi-Fi and WiMax in India. Currently she works as a market researcher in NaviSite, Inc., India. She has authored several papers on the state of Indian telecommunication and the efforts to bridge the digital divide in the developing world. Prior to this she has worked as a wireless engineer in Conexant, Inc., and Infosys Tech., Ltd. She is an avid blogger (http://upasna.blogspot.com).

Comments

  1. We also hope to build our city wireless network in Beijing,China. it’s the economical hottest city at current.Our project is Beijing Wireless information network. We hope some guys or invest company’s who interest to this project to contact with us.
    We have prepare for this project for at least 9 years.We have pave a certain way for it .
    We have a broadband backbone loop network and enough frequency spectrum.
    Tel:86-010-88411624
    Add:Beijing XiSanhuanzhonglu CCTV tower Room 0213

  2. Brian, I am sure a lot of Chinese/Multi national companies wpuld like to invest in Beijing…In India most projects are being done by Motorola and Intel …with other local partners ofcourse…
    The Pune project I mentioned, is being implemented by Intel and Microsense as the Pvt partners and the municipality as the public partner…

  3. Ajit Bobra says:

    There are several talk about WiFI or WiMAX or Municipal WiFi in India. There is no consolidated approach in India and hence the project does not takes off. This is one of the main reason for lagging behind. Also the Spectrum Allocation for WiMAX is major isuue.

    Ajit Bobra

    Network Consultant,
    Ahmedabad – India