by October 6, 2009 0 comments

I’m writing this in Singapore, where I first experienced Wi-Fi. In late 2002,
Changi airport started free Wi-Fi, even giving free Wi-Fi PC cards (against the
deposit of a passport) for passengers-built-in Wi-Fi didn’t happen till two
years later.

This little city-state (4.7 million people) has moved ahead since. Right now
I’m ‘roaming’ on M1,even though Airtel’s primary arrangement is with investor
SingTel, because I found M1’s 3.5G a bit faster than SingTel’s 3G. And both
support my BlackBerry service. All telcos are, of course, on 3G.

3G makes for a very different mobile-phone experience, though I do find that
my Nokia E51’s battery doesn’t last a day with all this data usage. Out here,
the new E52 (with a much better battery) is 18k, but true to their all-new
any-service-as-long-as-it’s-Nokia’s-own gameplan, doesn’t seem to support
BlackBerry connect; so I guess I’ll have to move on to a RIM BlackBerry handset,

Back to Wi-Fi. Singapore would be the only country (albeit one so tiny that
South Delhi could swallow it) to have put “nation wide” free Wi-Fi, served
through 7,500 hot spots. The Wireless@SG network was rolled out in 2007, and is
now completing an upgrade to 1 Mbps throughout. It’s meant to stay free till at
least 2013. Ads are served, and new location-based services will offer
locality-specific information and targeted advertising.

The Wi-Fi network’s location information is also freely available to
third-party developers who want to create applications for the network. Contrast
this with India’s telcos, who sit so tight on location information (from the SS7
signaling layer, easily shareable with developers), that the only way to get
past that block is to drive around India ‘sniffing’ at every towers, recording
their location and ID-which is what Google did, for its mobile non-GPS
location-based service.

Free and fast wireless connectivity is a given in Singapore. Even the little
S$100 budget inn I’m in has free Wi-Fi. The good thing is that a few of our
airports-notably the new ones, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Delhi-are offering that
too. Security concerns are easily addressed through mobile authentication, where
you enter your mobile number into the browser, and get the single-user password
as an SMS.

We have a long way to go in data connectivity in India.

The USA is worrying about being ranked a low 26 on average consumer broadband
speed (just over 5 Mbps). An Asian country, South Korea, tops, with over 20 Mbps
average consumer broadband speed; Japan, Sweden and other countries follow.
India isn’t on that list.

It isn’t that we don’t have the tech. My Airtel household broadband speed’s
at 2 Mbps: usable, if nowhere near even the US’s speeds. But Airtel doesn’t have
the reach: BSNL and MTNL do, and their customers’ quality of service experience
has been so poor that they conclude that all this Internet connectivity “doesn’t

India’s beating the world on mobile voice penetration. It will touch 500
million mobile users this fiscal year, and just one company-Airtel-has 110
million users. But we’re nowhere on broadband, wireless or otherwise. And unless
that moves ahead urgently, PC use itself will be low, as it is today, and
economic progress will be way lower than it could be.

The author is chief editor at CyberMedia, publisher of 15 specialty titles
including PCQuest. You can reach him at

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