Indian Internet Service Providers are upbeat about Worldwide Inter-operability for Microwave Access (WiMAX) as a solution for the country's last-mile connectivity problems.
Companies such as VSNL, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd and Mahanagar Telecom Nigam Ltd, Bharti Airtel and even smaller firms like Microsense, are gradually jumping on the wireless bandwagon and offering fixed WiMAX networks.
"Over the next 2-3 years, over $1 billion (Rs 4,000 crore) worth of investments will be made in WiMax and it will gain at least 10 million subscribers," predicts Lin Mohan, managing director of emerging markets for the WiMAX programme at Intel.
Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) operators like Reliance Communications, too, are offering CDMA Evolution-Data Optimised (EV-DO) or its nextGen 2.5-2.75G wireless networks for hi-speed data and voice access. Even equipment manufacturers like Nortel, Alcatel, Nokia and Motorola are mulling the launch of these services.
WiMax, is an IEEE 802.16 technology that supports both fixed-nomadic WiMAX WBA (802.11d) as well as mobile WiMAX WBA (802.16e). It currently operates in the 3.3-3.4 gigahertz (GHz) frequency band.
Intel is credited with the setting up of the first rural tele-diagonsitic centre in Baramati using fixed WiMAX. Intel also consulted the Pune Municipal Corporation for its unwired Pune project and is now consulting on 3-4 wireless projects in various states.
"By 2008, we will rollout our notebooks which will have the WiMax Silicon Chip inside allowing for anytime anywhere connectivity. But before that we need to have the back-end and the infrastructure in place," says Mohan.
Even smaller service providers like Chennai-based Microsense, which is implementing Wi-Fi and WiMax network in Pune and investing Rs 100 crore (Rs 1 billion), is considering similar investments to implement Wi-Fi/ WiMAX in other state projects.
"We have submitted bid for implementation of these networks for Hyderabad, Chennai and parts of Delhi, and will now submit a bid for Jaipur which floated its request for proposal recently as well," says Kailash Nathan, managing director, Microsense.
Pune is adopting a meshed network of Wi-Fi for retail, and WiMAX for enterprise consumers. The city is expected to completely wireless in two stages over the next 18 months.
On the other hand, VSNL has announced plans to extend its WiMAX network to about 120 cities across India for enterprise customers and in five cities for retail customers by the end of this financial year.
Even Bharti Airtel has already deployed fixed WiMAX in 11 cities which include Ahemdabad, Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Cochin, Trivandrum, Kolkata, Jallandhar, Chandigarh, and Kolhapur.
Ruchir Godura, Chief Marketing Officer, Airtel-Enterprise Services (strategic business unit, Bharti Airtel Ltd) says, "We are in planning stages for deployment of Wi-Fi-WiMax in Delhi/ North Capital Region and by the year-end will have covered nine more cities with WiMAX."
Equally aggressive, but tight-lipped, about its foray into wireless is the Anil Ambani-owned Reliance Communications. According to industry sources, it will unveil its wireless plans in July. "The company will deploy CMA EVDO network in Bangalore and Pune in first week of July and subsequently cover India starting from the South."
However, ISPs are worried about the use of the spectrum allocated for WiMax for providing Value Added Services (VAS) by telcos as it will subsequently increase broad band rates.
Rajesh Chharia, president, Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI) and MD, CJ Online, an ISP in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, says, "WiMAX frequency will be auctioned by the government and this will be bought by telecom operators to offer VAS. The frequency should be reserved for dedicated ISPs who would then offer broad band data services at cheaper rates."