India on the cusp of Wi-Fi revolution
Access to internet while on the move will be crucial as 'work from anywhere' is catching up
OF late, access to internet has become a necessity for carrying out digital transactions, for checking mails, for attending to online classes and for doing work from home. While taking long drive on road by car, internet can be accessed using mobile data facility, provided adequate 3G/4G signal is available en-route.
Since work from home scenario is likely to be the norm for some more time to come, employees on long journey in buses and trains can do the office work if good 3G/4G signal is available from mobile networks throughout the route or Wi-Fi facility is there in buses/trains. Many ISPs have installed 3G/4G towers on important train routes/stations to provide good signal coverage.
BSNL and other ISPs have established Wi-Fi hot spots/access points (APs) at important State Road Transport bus stands, busy railway stations and Airports for giving access to internet service. Free access for certain duration will be available and afterwards charges have to be paid electronically on pay per use basis. To comply with the DoT's guidelines for user authentication, log in process is put in place in above Wi-Fi systems. After choosing the Wi-Fi network (among the Wi-Fi networks available), one has to enter his mobile number and the OTP will be sent. After entering the OTP, Wi-Fi access is provided.
RailTel has installed Wi-Fi hot spots/APs at important railway stations. Optical Fibre network laid along the railway track is utilised for providing back haul. This internet service is named as 'RailWire'.
As mobile networks can't provide continuous 3G/4G signal in the entire route, Railways have provided Wi-Fi solutions in the important trains. Internet access is provided using satellite and 2G/3G networks. The system consists of onboard satellite tracking antenna, multiband antenna and Wi-Fi broadcasting equipment. Train is fitted with a number of Wireless Access Points that provide coverage across the coaches. The primary broad band link to back haul the internet traffic is provided via satellite and in case of non availability of satellite network, 2G/3G link act as backhaul, thus achieving 99 per cent availability of internet service. Howrah-Delhi Rajdhani Express was the first train to be fitted with this facility followed by Shatabdi, Duranto and Tejas.
DOT has given licences for providing in-flight Wi-Fi service to BSNL and other ISPs in 2018. Wi-Fi in air planes provides the gadgets with internet facility with flight mode turned on. There are two systems of connectivity for in-flight Wi-Fi; Air to ground and satellite. Air to ground system works similar to mobile network. In this system, antenna on the nearest tower of mobile network projects signals upwards (unlike antennas of mobile networks that project the signals downwards).
Antennas fitted beneath the airplanes receive signals from the towers and send them to the onboard server. In satellite based Wi-Fi system, satellite tracking antenna is fitted on the top of the airplane which receive signals from satellite and send to the on board server. These signals are processed by the on board server providing Wi-Fi. Air to ground system works seamlessly, until the airplane flies over a space with no tower. In that case the satellite system takes over. There will be no break in the service. Wi-Fi in airplanes will be slower and expensive than the same on the ground. As per Civil Aviation department guidelines, in-flight Wi-Fi will be made available when the flight attains a minimum altitude of 3000m (It takes 4-5 minutes to reach this altitude after the airplane takeoff) to avoid interference with terrestrial mobile networks.
Already fifty five airlines are offering in-flight Wi-Fi service across the world. Spicejet and Vistara want to provide this service.
BSNL is the first ISP to get an In-Flight and Maritime Connectivity service provider (IFMC) licence. In collaboration with INMARSAT, it offers in-flight Wi-Fi service. This service is be offered in Ka (26.5 GHZ to 40 GHz) and L (1-2 GHz) frequency bands.
We can soon enjoy internet facility while flying in the country! Let us hope that BSNL will be the first ISP to offer this service which will augment it's much needed revenue.
BSNL and other private ISPs have established Wi-Fi hot spots/APs at important tourist centres, cafes, commercial centres etc., for providing internet access to the visitors. BSNL has installed Wi-Fi 'Dabhas' at its important customer service centres where people can browse internet. They have provided Wi-Fi solutions at some rural telephone exchanges. As the employees are permitted to 'work from anywhere', they are going back to their native villages and availability of Wi-Fi in rural areas will be helpful to them to do their office work.
Government of India has approved in December 2020 a programme called PM- WANI (Wi-Fi Access Network Interface) to provide Wi-Fi services across the country. It is decided to open around one crore data centres across the country under this scheme. These centres will function as Public Data Offices (PDOs) and Wi-Fi access points will be installed there.
The back haul for these Wi-Fi access points will be provided by telecom service providers/internet service providers. Neither registration nor licence will be required for the PDOs. Also there will not be any charge to be paid for them. They will work on the lines of earlier PCOs of BSNL. Small shopkeepers can apply for PDO and provide Wi-Fi service to the people. It will boost their income and Wi-Fi availability will increase everywhere. PM-WANI is expected to bring a major Wi-Fi revolution in the country addressing the digital divide. This scheme will provide employment opportunities also.
To provide access to internet for people on the move, either by road, rail or by aeroplane, Wi-Fi facilities are made available. Access to internet facility will make the journey free from boredom and one can productively make use of journey time. Now a days, because of Covid, passengers don't talk to fellow passengers in buses/ trains/ aeroplanes and so having internet facility is a good pass time for them.
(The author is retired Advisor, Department of Telecommunications (DOT), Government of India)