Vodafone to set up free Wi-Fi hotspots in metros

NEW DELHI: If you are one of Vodafone India's internet savvy smartphone users living in a metro, there's good news for you. India's second largest telco will soon be supporting uninterrupted browsing sessions at possibly higher speeds, a few months down the line, even in congested areas.

The India arm of UK-based Vodafone Plc is testing out Wi-Fi hotspots in locations where internet usage is dense. The customers would be able to latch on to Wi-Fi airwaves in these areas without having to key in usernames and passwords. The pilots are being conducted in metro cities, including Mumbai, as part of the company's plans to create superior data-enabling infrastructure under Project Spring. "We're trialing that in several metros including Mumbai. Wi-Fi off-load is a developing technology and more functionalities are coming out which will make it more seamless. We're trying to make the authentication seamless," said Vishant Vora, director, technology, Vodafone India.

Today, one has to enter a username and password before using a Wi-Fi network. Vodafone wants to wipe out this requirement for users on its Wi-Fi networks. "If you register once (with a hotspot), you are maintained in our systems and don't need to do authentications again and again." With a drop down to a Wi-Fi hotspot, the consumer will get higher speeds as that network may be far less congested than the cellular network. The commercials around the concept are being worked out to determine whether consumers will pay while using internet services while on the Wi-Fi network. Globally, payable and free Wi-Fi networks co-exist.

Vora added that standards to enable hand-offs from one network to the other, for instance from Wi-Fi to 3G and vice versa, will be coming soon. The movement from one kind of spectrum to another will be seamless and done at the back end while the customer will continue to browse Internet without experiencing any glitch.

Flush with cash from selling its US business unit to Verizon Communications for $130 billion in September, the parent company has set up 'Project Spring' to upgrade and improve its networks across geographies. India is one of the first markets where Vodafone will improve its data network by spending Rs 7,000 crore, in addition to its annual capex of Rs 5,000 crore over the next few years. Data traffic for Vodafone in India has been growing 60-70% year-on-year from 2G and over 100% from 3G. For the six months ended September last year, the company saw its data revenue rise to Rs 1,514 crore, which contributed 9% of overall revenue of Rs 20,476.3 crore.

Vora added that the company was constantly exploring new technologies, for instance small cells, to make its network cope with the enormous data growth and pent-up demand. Small cells are tiny signal emitters connected to fibre network, used to offload data traffic from a macro cellular network to relieve congestion. These are usually deployed inside buildings since they have a range of 200-700 meters.

It has already deployed several thousand base stations for 3G and 2G in the last four months. Chinese telecommunications equipment supplier Huawei Technologies has been roped in for a five-year contract to help upgrade the networks in 15 countries, including India, where it will be responsible for improving its optical network.

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