Given the abysmal reach of the Internet in rural areas, WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) has been seen by a host of players as the technology vehicle that can enable them to make inroads into this relatively untapped market. Another reason for WiMAX being viewed with eyes of optimism is due to the way broadband access has been provided to consumers in India. Broadband in India has been typically delivered using wires, and is fraught with challenges such as taking huge number of permissions from multiple authorities such as municipal corporations and housing societies for laying down the fiber optic network. Even in areas, where operators installed a fiber optic network, the volumes seldom justified the price of creating the network. On the other end of the spectrum is the unconnected India – which lives in villages, has no access to wired lines, and accounts for over 70 percent of the population. lowest price iptv

Hence, though the latent demand for Internet access is high; few service providers have been able to match the demand with quality. It is common to see several users complaining about the dismal speeds or abrupt disconnections, on discussion boards on the Internet. Not surprisingly, though the broadband subscriber base has been growing at a fast clip, it is far less than the ambitious target set by the broadband policy of 2004. The broadband subscriber base, as of December 2008, stands at 5.45 million, and falls way short of the target set by DoT, of achieving a base of 20 million broadband subscribers by 2010.

With WiMAX, telecom players see a sliver of hope to connect to the rural population, and in turn, overcome the infrastructure hurdles that are present in every city. WiMAX eliminates the need for building a fiber optic network in rough terrain, or sparsely populated areas – which make the business case for building a fiber optic network difficult. With WiMAX, all the telecom operators need is a base station, giving them the flexibility to target niche pockets or regions, which are small if targeted individually, but represent a huge customer base collectively. Says Naresh Singh, Principal research analyst, Gartner, “India needs a wireless technology to grow its broadband subscriber base. In this context, WiMAX is a good option for a number of ISPs who do not have another choice for last mile connectivity.”

As WiMAX is a scalable wireless access technology that can be used effectively to bridge long distances with high data rates, leading telecom carriers have showed intent, with some of these players already making a start in building a WiMAX ecosystem. These include major carriers such as BSNL, Tata Communications, Reliance Communications, and Bharti Airtel.

The Government of India too realized the immense potential of this technology in bridging the digital divide – as it made a decision to allocate and auction WiMAX spectrum to the 2.3 and 2.5 GHz frequency bands. Buoyed by the government decision, the WiMAX Forum predicted that the Indian WiMAX market including devices will be worth $13 billion by 2012. The Forum has also said that it will add an Indian certification lab to support certification of products in this region. Private players such as Intel too announced their plans to tap this promising market, by working with the WiMAX forum to bring affordable low cost devices that would help in increasing Internet access.

A spectrum of possibilities
With WiMAX, telecom operators have the ability to roll out networks for providing broadband access quickly, and make inroads into markets where it has been commercially unviable due to the problem of last mile connectivity. Agrees Neeraj Gulati, Managing Director, Ciena India, “In India, last mile connectivity has always been a concern. In fact, due to this fact, more than 70 per cent of Indian households do not have access to fixed wired telephone services (landlines). This means providing DSL to such households is an even bigger problem. In this context, WiMAX is being examined as a means to solve the challenge of last mile connectivity.”

The last mile connectivity problem is acute in rural areas, and this is where WiMAX can play a significant role. Says Subashini Prabhakar, CTM, Dax Networks, “Most places in India, especially in the rural sector, lack the traditional telecom backbone infrastructure. WiMAX networks in these places will be preferred over traditional wired connectivity options.”