While India's wireless community initiatives are still waiting for the government to announce its spectrum policy on WiMAX, which is holding up not only all city-wide wireless projects but also the 3G roll-outs in the country, Pune -- an industrial city in western India -- has gone ahead with an innovative solution to roll out India's first city-wide wireless network.
In association with global chipmaker Intel and India-based Wi-Fi service provider Micorsense, the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) last week commenced the rollout of "Unwire Pune," a city-wide wireless project aimed at providing easy and seamless Internet connectivity through handheld devises. This project is significant for innovatively using both the Wi-Fi and WiMax technologies to unwire the city, the pursuit of which started about two years back but could not move forward due to lack of adequate spectrum for WiMAX.
Adoption of WiMax faces a peculiar problem in India. While nearly 1000 citywide wireless initiatives are already planned in the country, none has seen light of the day yet due to the government's delay in releasing sufficient wireless spectrum.
Globally the 2.5-2.7GHz band is used for WiMAX, but in India this band is locked for satellite-based mobile and broadcast applications such as disaster warning and radio networking. What is available for WiMAX in India is spectrum in the 12 MHz, 3.3 to 3.4 GHz, and 5.8 GHz band range that have been allocated to seven Internet Service Providers for city-level deployments. But all say that this range of spectrum is just good enough for trials -- which some are already undertaking -- but not enough for full-fledged or commercial city-wide wireless roll-outs.
The players say that they have recommended that the government release higher spectrum for feasible WiMAX and 3G mobile phone roll-outs, but the government has yet to adopt this policy due in part to indecision on how much spectrum to release. The government is also not sure on how to price this. In addition, there is also a relative spectrum scarcity because the country's defense department, which is sitting on a wide band of unused spectrum, currently is unwilling to give up its "scarce resource" just yet even for a price.
"We decided to unwire the city two years back and even waited for the private telecom operators to set up a city-wide network," said Ambarish Galinde, the joint commissioner of the Pune Municipal Corporation and the person in charge of Unwire Pune. "But when we realized that operators were unwilling to move forward in absence of a clear WiMAX policy, we decided to push the project from the municipal level."
A tender was called where private players including a state-owned telecom company evinced interest but wanted the Pune municipality to bear the costs. "But it is not the job of the municipality to undertake such projects so we floated another tender," says Galinde.
That's when Microsense, a local provider of WAN, Wi-Fi applications and integrated network infrastructure submitted its bid, complete with a commitment to fund the total project on its own. "We saw a feasible project and a good business model," says S. Kailasanathan, the managing director, Microsense. "Being the largest solutions provider of Wi-Fi hotspots in the country, we did not see the lack of adequate WiMAX spectrum a hindrance. We decided to use both Wi-Fi and WiMAX to unwire Pune since WiMax and Wi-Fi technologies compliment each other and are often used together in community-wide wireless solution."
According to Kailasanathan, Microsense would set up as many (exact number yet to be ascertained) Wi-Fi hotspots required to cover the whole city. As well, it would lease the unused WiMAX spectrum available from the local Internet Service Providers to provide the WiMAX connectivity.
"This is a good way of unwiring the city fast," says Galinde. "There aren't too many WiMAX users so the