Dr P.D. Vaghela, chairman, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)

5G, satcom and Wi-Fi were the key topics of discussion in the Indian telecom sector during 2022. These technologies are seen as crucial in bridging India’s digital divide, and providing affordable, quality and ubiquitous broadband coverage in India, contributing to the country’s goal of a digital economy. During the past year, Dr P.D. Vaghela, chairman, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), talked about the emerging role of Wi-Fi, satcom and 5G services in transforming India’s digital landscape at various recent industry events. Edited excerpts from his speeches…

5G, satcom and Wi-Fi were the key to­pics of discussion in the Indian te­le­com sector during 2022. These tech­nologies are seen as crucial in bridging In­dia’s digital divide, and providing affordable, quality and ubiquitous broadband co­verage in India, contributing to the country’s goal of a digital economy. During the past year, Dr P.D. Vaghela, chairman, Te­le­­com Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), has talked about the emerging role of Wi-Fi, satcom and 5G services in transforming India’s digital landscape at various recent industry events. Edited excerpts from his speeches…

Role of Wi-Fi in broadband connectivity

Technology has played a pivotal role in connecting and making the world mobile, especially India, for almost two and a half decades of its existence. The advantages of Wi-Fi in terms of ease of operation, ease of maintenance, lower cost and ubiquitous availability have made it one of the most commonly used, dynamic and ever-evolving technologies. It has revolutionised the broadband landscape all over the world. The contribution of Wi-Fi in reducing the digital divide cannot be overemphasised.

Wi-Fi is the best companion of mobile broadband when it comes to offloading mo­bile traffic in a highly congested area or pro­­viding services where mobile signals can­not penetrate. With the increasing trend of working from home, or rather work­ing from anywhere, Wi-Fi will be­come an integral part of any building solution.

Public Wi-Fi networks

Keeping in mind the constraints of spectrum and network infrastructure, we need to have a complementary framework of Wi-Fi, including public Wi-Fi. Globally, Wi-Fi, especially public Wi-Fi, has em­erged as one of the most successful means of enhancing broadband connectivity and proliferation.

TRAI has always been conscious of the need to promote Wi-Fi in India. In March 2017, TRAI gave recommendations to the go­vernment for the proliferation of broadband through public Wi-Fi networks. A new framework for providing Wi-Fi to pu­blic data offices (PDOs) and public data office aggregators (PDOAs) was also recommended. Later, based on this concept, the government launched the Prime Mi­nis­ter Wi-Fi Access Network Interface (PM-WANI) in 2021. The PM-WANI scheme lays down a roadmap for the Pro­pel India mission of the National Digital Communications Policy.

PM-WANI strategises to catalyse investments, innovation and ease of doing business by promoting open public Wi-Fi access through Wi-Fi PDOs and PDOAs. The involvement of small entities such as kirana shops has great prospects for hosting Wi-Fi access points to provide broadband connectivity in areas that are still uncovered from the cellular coverage. PM-WANI, however, has not made the desired progress, maybe due to competition with cheaper mobile data or a slow developing high quality business model.

In its recommendation for the proliferation of broadband through public Wi-Fi networks in 2017, TRAI stated that all licensee categories should be allowed tax sharing of infrastructure such as Wi-Fi equipment including Wi-Fi group routers, access points and backhaul. The Depart­ment of Telecomm­uni­­cations (DoT) has is­sued an amendment in this regard. Re­cently, we requested DoT to bring parity between the different licences and authorities through a unified licence as far as active and passive infrastructure settings are concerned.

Combination of satcom and Wi-Fi

Another area of interest is the role that can be played by satcom and Wi-Fi toge­ther. Satcom can become a much-needed medium for backhauling traffic from Wi-Fi hotspots. TRAI has made recommendations in this regard for facilitating the use of reset-based networks for backhauling of both cellular and Wi-Fi traffic. The government has already accepted this recommendation.

Satcom spectrum

India will be the first country to auction spectrum for satellite communication, and it should be designed to attract investments in the sector. TRAI will soon recommend making permissions required for satellite communication from various ministries, including the Ministry of Infor­mation and Broad­casting, Depart­ment of Space and Minis­try of Commu­nications seamless, to enhance the ease of doing business in the sector.

TRAI has received a reference from DoT for the spectrum required to be put to auction and associated aspects of satellite-based communication. TRAI will be coming out with some sort of model for the auction of space spectrum. But it should not kill the sector. That is very important. Any system that we introduce would be to actually encourage and promote investment in the sector, and not increase any burden. That is the biggest challenge we face.

Digital connectivity infrastructure

We all have adopted this new norm of life of performing our day-to-day tasks online and for this we require good digital connectivity in every nook and corner of our ho­me. Tele­com service providers (TSPs) alo­ne cannot provide digital connectivity in indoor areas; rather, close collaboration and coor­di­nation among a multitude of agencies/stakeholders from the telecom industry, real estate sector and permission-granting authorities, is required for this new ecosystem to work effectively. There is a need for close coordination among various stakeholders to ensure the co-design and co-creation of digital connectivity infrastructure along with a building plan. There should be necessary provisions in the National Building Code of India. All the three tiers of the government, centre, state and local governments, must update their bylaws ­housing acts to make provisions for a robust, effective and efficient digital connectivity infrastructure to provide a real delightful experience to end users.

There is also a need to create a win-win situation for builders, TSPs and end users, by creating a benchmarking framework for buildings in terms of digital connectivity experience rating. The rating will attract buyers and enable service providers and builders to add value to their services or properties.

Digital inclusion

India has considered technology as a key element for two things, rapid economic growth, and social and digital inclusion. The Digital India programme has helped immensely in expanding the use of technology and the Digital India profile has brought about a huge change in various sectors. India is the second largest telecom market in the world with 1.17 billion telecom subscribers and 825 million broadband subscribers.


5G technology will enable India to achieve the digital empowerment goal and improve the well-being of people. 5G technology will offer significant improvements in network performance and likely transform in­dustries and society, putting the country on an unprecedented growth trajectory. 5G will have a massive impact on various industries and on the overall economy.

Stakeholders can cooperate on expediting infrastructure roll-out for 5G dep­loyment considering the issues and chall­en­ges, especially in the north-eastern sta­tes. The main focus of the government is to provide internet and digital access to everyone, including underserved people, to ensure that every section of society gets connectivity at any cost.


The BharatNet programme was based on the idea mooted by TRAI. It envisages the establishment and management of high speed broadband infrastructure in all local bodies and includes the provisioning of last-mile connectivity to all village local bodies and villagers. Under the progra­mme, Wi-Fi hotspots are being installed in 104,000 village local bodies. Of these, it has been activated in almost 50,000. This work will pick up in the coming months. The government has now decided that Bha­ratNet will be implemented in public-private partnership mode. I think Wi-Fi hotspot penetration in villages will certainly increase as private enterprises take over this project.

Future outlook

Going forward, the expected arrival of next-generation Wi-Fi 6 will further reinforce the need for a robust public Wi-Fi network in the country. A robust public Wi-Fi network will help deliver extremely high capacity, high speed and highly se­cure broadband services to consumers by synergising with the PM-WANI mo­del. Wi-Fi 6e will be many times faster than the current Wi-Fi standard, and will offer better performance for every MHz of spectrum. Wi-Fi 7 is also lurking on the horizon, which is likely to increase data download speeds to up to 10 GB per second and provide latencies of less than 1 mi­llisecond. This would really help complement 5G technology and improve the overall quality of service. If we want to meet the future capacity requirement of users and increase spectrum availability, the future generation of Wi-Fi is essentially a precondition.

Besides, nano satellites and satellite in­ternet of things will drive the next generation of technology and such innovations are expected to enable connectivity across industries and empower it and the upcoming 6G capability. Innovations in satellite ground stations, orbital services, payloads, operational systems and artificial intelligence will enable satellites to perform mo­re complex functions.