Over the past few years, internet access has become an absolute necessity to sustain economies, run businesses and stay connected. While there are several mediums for enabling internet access, Wi-Fi has the capability to combine the best of fixed and mobile broadband technologies to offer reliable, high speed mobile connectivity at cost-effective rates. Given the various benefits of the technology, the Wi-Fi solutions market in India is expected to grow at an impressive rate over the coming years.
A look at some of the key trends and drivers shaping the Wi-Fi market, the challenges on the way and the future outlook…
In India, the managed Wi-Fi solutions market is driven by the need for high speed internet connectivity. Additionally, the increasing number of Wi-Fi-enabled devices such as mobile phones, laptops, computers, iPads, and tablets are expected to further propel the market through 2025. Besides, the growing adoption of enterprise mobility solutions, coupled with the growing penetration of connected devices and BYOD (bring your own device) concept, is expected to fuel market growth over the next few years.
The rapid rise in the adoption of digital solutions has paved the way for the growth of the Wi-Fi market. Organisations across the country are implementing technologically advanced applications across their verticals to engage customers in innovative and captivating ways. This has increased the need for high quality wireless network connectivity such as Wi-Fi. Furthermore, to fulfil the needs of organisations to the fullest, these new applications must be deployed in an agile environment, leading to rapid and responsive development, while ensuring optimal network performance and cost-effectiveness. Wi-Fi network deployment helps enterprises rapidly build and connect business applications. The Wi-Fi network also provides greater flexibility, scalability, reliability and cost benefits in connecting mission-critical business applications. Additionally, core industry sectors are keen on automating and digitalising their processes to streamline business operations and leverage new business revenue opportunities.
The adoption of Wi-Fi services is increasing rapidly, especially after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Given the shift to the work-from-home scenario and the increasing thrust to digitalisation of businesses, Wi-Fi has become a critical requirement for meeting the growing demand for data consumption. The following are some of the key trends shaping the Wi-Fi space…
Public Wi-Fi takes centre stage
Public Wi-Fi has emerged as one of the most successful means of enhancing broadband proliferation among masses globally. For India too, public Wi-Fi can be seen as a low-cost option for reaching unserved citizens. To this end, the recently launched Prime Minister Wi-Fi Access Network Interface (PM-WANI) initiative is a big leap towards providing Wi-Fi ubiquity in India.
Connecting rural India
The government had launched the BharatNet project with the aim of bridging the rural-urban digital divide, by enhancing connectivity across villages. The project is being implemented in a phased manner, to provide broadband co-nnectivity infrastructure across all 250,000 gram panchayats in the country. Last-mile connectivity is broadly being established through Wi-Fi and fibre-to-the-home. As per Bharat Broadband Network Limited, owing to the government’s BharatNet programme, at present there are more than 1.5 million registered Wi-Fi users in rural India.
Telcos upping the VoWiFi game
A key upcoming technology trend in the Wi-Fi domain is voice over Wi-Fi (VoWiFi), which enables voice calling using a Wi-Fi connection when the cellular network is poor or not available. VoWiFi is quite similar to VoLTE, but instead of 4G, it uses the Wi-Fi network to make calls. VoWiFi technology helps in significantly improving indoor connectivity. Further, the technology eliminates mobile blackspots for users by making it possible to make and receive calls over Wi-Fi or wireless internet connections. In India, all three private telcos, Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea Limited have started offering VoWiFi services.
Contention loss and co-channel interference are key issues associated with Wi-Fi networks. Contention loss refers to poor network performance due to many clients converging on a single AP, whereas co-channel interference is caused when two or more access points use the same radio frequency channel, thereby affecting the network performance.
Another challenge is that of poor user experience in high density environments. Various users experience poor quality of experience due to substandard access point performance or inaccurate network planning. Users, especially in large venues, such as stadiums, shopping malls and mid-sized hotels, expect that the Wi-Fi network will be reliable, scalable and easily configurable. It is very challenging to constantly deliver good and high quality Wi-Fi services, as providers face several issues. The most common issues include the poor range between Wi-Fi access points; interference in the network from external sources such as weather stations and cell towers; and signal blockage by concrete walls. Providers’ support cost rises, as they have to bear additional expenses to purchase extenders and repeaters.
On the regulatory front, the current regulations in India permit Wi-Fi in only the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands. These two bands have only about 600 MHz of spectrum for all users as compared to the over-2 GHz that is needed. With work and study from home becoming the norm during the pandemic, and with an extremely high population density, the problem of shared Wi-Fi spectrum shortage needs to be addressed urgently.
Opportunities and outlook
For telecom tower companies
The increasing deployment of Wi-Fi networks has opened up a range of opportunities for key stakeholders in the telecom domain. In particular, the government’s ambitious target of deploying 10 million public Wi-Fi hotspots by 2022 under the National Digital Communications Policy, 2018, has created opportunities for towercos as well as Wi-Fi providers. As the Wi-Fi market is highly under-penetrated at present, towercos can turn into neutral host public Wi-Fi providers that can provide both Wi-Fi equipment as well as operations and maintenance to telcos/service providers.
Towercos are well suited to play the role of a neutral host in Wi-Fi deployments. This can help telcos avoid the considerable cost of setting up individual infrastructure. The infrastructure sharing model can be extended for Wi-Fi deployment as well, thus bringing in opex and capex efficiency for telecom operators. As per an EY report, the overall addressable market value of the Wi-Fi segment in India is expected to be in the range if Rs 45 billion-Rs 50 billion by 2023. Of this, towercos are expected to account for a 30-40 per cent share, with an overall towerco opportunity of Rs 15 billion-Rs 20 billion.
For Wi-Fi equipment manufacturers
Another group benefiting from the increased focus on the Wi-Fi segment is Wi-Fi equipment manufacturers. For one, the government’s PM-WANI initiative has given an impetus to local manufacturing and supply chain sectors for producing indigenous Wi-Fi equipment for Wi-Fi hotspots. This could also help meet the government’s Atmanirbhar Bharat objective. Further, the recently announced production-linked incentive scheme for telecom and networking equipment will drive indigenous manufacturing of telecom products, including Wi-Fi products.
In fact, a number of companies have started launching new Wi-Fi products to leverage emerging opportunities in this space. Recently, HFCL partnered with Qualcomm Technologies to develop its Wi-Fi 6 portfolio of products. These products are targeted at global carriers, enterprises and internet service providers. Further, VVDN Technologies has started completely knocked-down manufacturing in India in the domains of 5G, Wi-Fi, camera and vision, and IoT. Earlier, VVDN had entered into a partnership with HFCL to launch Wi-Fi 6-based wireless solutions for the Indian and global markets. The solutions have already been deployed in the Indian market and trials are under way in the international market.