Recently, I received a ‘Thank You’ letter from IEEE President & CEO for making a contribution to an IEEE fund that helps advance technology for humanity and realize full potential of IEEE. The IEEE President listed three areas of global concern – access to high speed Internet, adequate sanitation and electric power. Today Internet access is indeed as fundamental as having electric power and sanitation. This is reflected in policies across nations worldwide.
For instance, in India, Prime Minister Modi has outlined his vision for every Indian to have high speed access to Internet. Its akin to a Prime Minister laying out the vision for expressways for speedy and hassle free movement of vehicles across the country. A network of good roads and good communication infrastructure are critical to growth and prosperity. Hon. Indian Prime Minister is on the mark putting digitization along with ‘Swaccha Bharat’ as a top national priority.
In an emerging economy like India where wired network infrastructure is limited largely to urban areas, wireless Internet access is an attractive proposition. People love the convenience of wireless access even if the quality of connection is poor. You don't have to be glued to one place as it happens when using a landline phone or a computer connected to an Ethernet cable. Wireless access is ubiquitous as the entire space becomes the medium of communication. Governments around the world have recognized this as a national asset and have sold radio spectrum at a charge. While this creates revenue for governments, it can work against building affordable communication infrastructure. WiFi on the other hand operates in 2.4GHz and 5.0GHz radio spectrums that are unlicensed; one can operate in these frequency ranges without having to pay a license fee. This is very important as telecom operators, Internet service providers can build networking infrastructure using WiFi without having to pay for the spectrum. Coming to my road analogy, one needs a combination of toll roads and non toll roads. Both have their place in creating the infrastructure. In a country like India where sensitivity to pricing is high, WiFi will not only de-congest expensive licensed radio spectrum like 4G LTE but will reduce the cost significantly.
Smart cities and public hotspots are among the best known use cases of WiFi. However, many other innovative ways exist. For instance, top national colleges like IITs, NITs, IIITs and IIMs want WiFi across their campuses and spend considerable time and effort putting together vendors to look for this technology. There is a very good chance that requirements are largely the same for all of them and hence these need not be handled individually. A massively scalable WiFi Management Console that can manage WiFi at say top 100 national universities with a sharable architecture while giving flexibility to each university is feasible. The same approach can be used for smart cities, government departments and even Gram Panchayats. A unified approach for critical national digital infrastructure is efficient and possible with the current state of the art in WiFi technology.