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Municipal Wi-Fi in India

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The Pune Municipal Corporation has initiated “Unwire Pune” project, with Intel Technologies Ltd. as the chief technology and programme management consultant. This project is aimed at making 400 sq kms of the city alongwith adjacent areas of Pimpri and Chinchwad, wireless. Intel would be deploying the Wi-Fi and WiMax technologies for making the city wire-free. The main aim behind to project is to provide seamless connectivity to citizens, businesses and academic institutions.

Introduction

Often 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 programme management consultant. This project is aimed at making 400 sq kms of the city alongwith adjacent areas of Pimpri and Chinchwad wireless. Intel would be deploying the Wi-Fi and WiMax technologies for making the city wire-free. The main aim behind the project is to provide seamless connectivity to citizens, businesses and academic institutions.

Project Implementation

Intel would be responsible for developing an extensible, high performance technical architecture and detailed design to suit the PMC requirements. Intel would also be responsible for informing and educating the PMC by various workshops and training programmes. PMC has set apart an initial estimate of INR 70 million 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, 800 Wi-Fi hotspots in the city. Initially free access to low end users and charges to high end users (with high bandwidth usage) is being planned. The Internet Service Provider (ISP) has not 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 sq km of the metropolis area the bandwidth available per user would be 128kbps. It would take about 12 months for the project to materialise. The technology to be used for Wi-Fi would be IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) 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 percent uptime and the frequency band used would be 2.4 Ghz. For WiMax IEEE 802.16e standards would be used.

In April 2007, the project finally took off, much later than its expected date, and PMC joined hands with Microsense to commercially roll out the first phase of 802.16d Wi-Fi and WiMax network in the city. The first phase would provide connectivity in a 25 sq km expanse of the city, and would take about four months to completion.

PMC has offered a service plan of INR 250 per month with the speed of 256 Kbps. The rest of the city would be covered in the next 12-16 months. Internet access would initially also be provided to 30 municipal schools in the city. The Pune project cost has been estimated at INR 1000 million over the next couple of years for setting up the infrastructure.

Benefits

Interestingly, the city of Pune would be holding the Commonwealth youth games in 2008, and infrastructure development is a priority to the PMC, this being the biggest sporting event being organised 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 realising 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 would become possible. Health services and social workers would 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 would be able to access internet with a temporary account provided to them.

Challenges

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, but amidst all the positive figures another one that also catches attention is that, 40 percent of the city population is in slums. Under these circumstances, a logical implication of this would mean that with people lacking basic facilities, it is highly unlikely that they would be interested in Wireless and more so, they would not be economically sound enough to buy laptops.

Another factor worth consideration is that the literacy rate in the city is not 100 percent, which would cause further problems to mass adoption of the technology. Also, a large section of the population in the city is not well versed with English and thus special care taken towards content development. Local language interfaces will have to be used additionally on the Internet which would have to be made 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 anyhow. 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 seem 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.

Conclusion

Throughout the world various business models have been experimented with Wi-Fi, and nothing as yet can guarantee success. Wi-Fi has 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. The model would have to consider that the project is also able to fund itself, keeping capital reserves for future network upgrades also.

It was stated that the pricing would be such that it is less than the current prices for broadband and also that only for high bandwidth users, a price would be charged. This however, would mean that unless the project is a huge success, sustainability of the project would not be easy.

With multitudes of issues related to the project it may not be easy discern whether the project is a success or not. The projects may well become successful on paper, but they will be a real success only when they would cater to “all” in the real sense.

Pune Municipal Corporation to map Utilities

The PMC has decided to map all utility lines across the city and also have GIS system to monitor along with recently prepared digitised map of the city roads. With the mapping of the utilities lines, the PMC will have detailed information on the number of the utility lines on any particular road and their exact underground location. The PMC is starting off the mapping utility lines of the MC including electricity cable network and telephone cable network. The utility map will provide information of utility lines to contractors and various other government departments, so that they do not damage the utility lines while  carrying out work on the road.

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