Microsense managing director S Kailasanathan, 52, still
finds time to play chess and win trophies, too.
The IIT-Madras and IIM-Calcutta graduate, a former Tamil
Nadu chess champion, recently won a veteran''s chess
tournament in Chennai. But a major chunk of his time
is utilised to strategise plans to net wireless fidelity
(WiFi) projects in India.
is WiFi? It is the term used for wireless connectivity
to the Internet or to the local area network (LAN).
It operates on a standard protocol of 802.11b and enables
Internet access over a small area, called hotspot, through
Chennai-based Microsense has WiFi-ed prime hotel properties
belonging to major hospitality groups like the Taj and
ITC. Recently, the company bagged orders from Le Royal
Meridian and Chola Sheraton, both located in Chennai
(See: WiFied star hotels).
plan to set up 600 hotspots in the country. Over a period
of time hotspots will become ubiquitous," predicts
Kailasanathan. A few kilometres away from where Kailasanathan
operates, Dax Networks director Deepak Mirza, 50, too,
is charting out WiFi plans, targeting tourist spots
and airport lounges.
largely to the Rs 60-crore Dax Networks, the chilly
Dal Lake in Kashmir has been turned into a hotspot
the first lake in the world to be so. This will facilitate
laptop-carrying tourists to log on to the Internet while
enjoying a boat-ride. "We are also planning to
WiFi the Bangalore airport, partnering with BSNL [Bharat
Sanchar Nigam Ltd]," says Mirza.
the Net could be accessed from boathouses, then the
Indian Railways is planning to offer the facility for
passengers in running trains. Strangely, the domestic
airlines are yet to think about this, though foreign
airlines like the German Lufthansa are already offering
Internet connectivity to passengers on board.
to be left behind, national Internet service providers
(ISPs) like Sify and Dishnet DSL are also looking at
the same segment. While Dishnet DSL will get into the
WiFi segment shortly (the company plans to set up around
1,000 hotspots in six months'' time), Sify, on the other
hand, has set up several hotspots in Bangalore, Chennai
developments on the WiFi front, again, underscores that
India is not lagging behind the West when it comes to
telecom technologies. Several public places that see
laptop-carrying executive footfalls coffee pubs,
airport lounges, hotel lobbies and rooms, and portions
of corporate premises are fast being transformed
India there are around 125 such hotspots from where
one can browse through the Net, free of wires. Nevertheless,
the number pales into insignificance when compared to
the 11,983 hotspots in the US, according to Intel''s
website. According to one study, by 2005 there will
be more than 1-lakh hotspots in the world.
the Indian cities, Bangalore boasts of having a major
number of hotspots, courtesy Sify. The garden city has
a large number of laptop-carrying professionals, used
to working online round the clock, as well as a large
number of international travellers who log on to this
places in other cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai,
which are likely to see use, will be added on as the
demand grows," says Sify president (access media)
Shrikant Joshi. Sify charges between Rs 60 and Rs 100
per hour of browsing under hotspots whereas cyber cafes
offer the service for Rs 20.
Joshi: "The rates are comparable to internationally
available WiFi hotspots and cover the cost of provisioning
the service as well as bandwidth utilisation. Itinerant
professionals are quite happy to pay about $2 an hour
for the convenience of being able to do work productively
during what might otherwise have been time unproductively
hotspots offer broadband connectivity in excess of 256
kbps. According to Joshi, network security will not
be an issue as itinerant professionals have firewalls
installed in their laptops by virtue of accessing their
offices from different parts of the world. The common
thread that is seen in the business plans of all the
companies is that they are targeting hotels, airports
and coffee pubs.
Joshi: "This is still a very nascent service, at
the very beginning of introduction and acceptance. The
early adopters, as we saw, are primarily airports, hotels,
airlines and the like because that is where they are
most likely to be used."
Kailasanthan and Mirza, the domestic residential market
is not in their line of sight. The prohibitive cost
(going up to Rs 50,000, based on the premises) hinders
households going for wireless Internet. Also, with the
penetration levels of PCs being very low in India, nothing
much need be said about the laptop population as also
those with WiFi cards.
Given this position the undeniable success factor is
corporate support (other than the hotels) for this service
/ technology. As of now only few corporates have WiFi-ed
their premises. For instance, Sify''s office at Tidel
Park, the 10th floor of Sterling Towers in Chennai housing
Dishnet DSL, the campuses of Infosys, Intel and the
International Software Technology Park located in Bangalore,
to name a few.
corporate India feel that WiFi is too hi-fi for it?
In fact, many leading industrial groups do not even
have a decent Website. Is India Inc really ready to
go wireless? There are other questions that crop up
Dishnet DSL senior manager (business development) Senthil
Venkatasubban: "Why should corporates switch over
from their existing wired connection to wireless? There
is no economic benefit for corporates to unwire their
premises and go in for WiFi."
Kailasanathan: "The business case for WiFi is when
there are advantages beyond mere removal of the Ethernet
cables. Thus, applications in the hospitality industry
have taken off before other industries. When Microsense
started to set up hotspots in star hotels users with
built-in WiFi laptops were few and far between. But
that number has gone up considerably and is expected
to grow further.
those with no WiFi card of their own, the hotel loans
a card. Today, many computers, laptops and personal
digital assistants (PDA) are shipped with the wireless
card installed. But hospitals, retail outlets, factories
and offices are likely to follow suit as WiFi laptops
and infrastructure become ubiquitous."
disagrees: "WiFi is not hi-fi for the Indian corporates.
In fact, they view wireless as an exciting and convenient
way of connectivity an extension of the existing
Ethernet standards. Yet wireless is new for them and
they need to know more about the devices, and the costs
WiFi-enable any office space, the following equipment
are required: A WiFi card (Rs 6,000 per card per computer;
Rs 5,000 for laptops) that resides in the computer,
an access point (Rs 14,000 each), and a modem (ranges
between Rs 20,000 and Rs 40,000 depending on the capacity)
to access the Internet. The 802.11b standard supports
up to 11 mbps of bandwidth per access point.
cost of bandwidth will be not more than what is being
currently provided by service providers," says
Joshi. The access point is placed at a central location
and provides wireless network connectivity to the area
around it, Internet or to the wired Ethernet network
of a company. It has a range of about a hundred metres.
wireless is more dependable. "But the design should
be right and must be backed by the right system integrator,"
says Mirza. The problem areas relate to that of the
weather heavier atmosphere weakens the signals.
to Kailasanathan, unclear standards, interoperability,
limited range, and hidden costs are not the dampening
factors. But the dampeners are the security of the network
and the licensing procedural aspects. The delays make
corporates think twice before going in for a full-fledged
security threats are also getting addressed. Says Mirza:
"There are encryption and authentication standards
in place as well as dynamic key mechanism, which will
will look at wireless only in the case of new buildings
and the areas that are not wired currently [board and
conference rooms, cafeteria]," says Rajesh Narayan,
senior manager (marketing and business development),
the meantime, discussions are on about WiFi being a
disruptive technology and threatening 3G telecom networks.
"WiFi access points cost very little while 3G base
stations sell between $90,000 and $45,000 each. Similarly,
WiFi''s download speeds are also five times faster than
3Gs, while the former can hit 10 mbps 3G runs at about
384 kbps," says Mirza.
Kailasanathan: "There is a long way to go before
the 3G-versus-WiFi issue is settled. By then both will
metamorphose into a different form. There is a school
of though that technologies based on WiFi will always
be ahead of technologies based on 3G so far as speed
Taj President, Mumbai
Grand Maratha Sheraton, Mumbai
Maurya Sheraton, Delhi
Welcome Group Marriott, Delhi
Taj Corormandel, Chennai
Taj Connemara, Chennai
Fisherman''s Cove, Chennai
Chola Sheraton, Chennai (about to go live)
Le Royal Meridien, Chennai (about to go live)
Sheraton Windsor Manor and Towers, Bangalore
ITC Grand Kakatiya Sheraton, Hyderabad
Sonar Bangla Sheraton, Kolkata
Taj Bengal, Kolkata
Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur