NEW DELHI: Tata Teleservices plans to set up nearly 4,000 Wi-Fi hotspots in nine cities across the country in the next two years as it expects internet usage to rise exponentially on the back of year-on-year doubling of smartphone devices in India, a senior executive said.
India’s smartphone market swelled 171% last year to 44 million devices from 16.2 million in 2012, said research firm IDC India, propelled by the launch of low-end, cost-competitive devices by international and local vendors that have narrowed price gaps between feature phones and smartphones. Avinash Gabriel, chief operations officer of the Wi-Fi business at Tata Teleservices, said the company had witnessed a huge increase in data consumption on mobile phones since it began creating wi-fi hotspots for airports, restaurants, cafes and other businesses nine months ago.
“From about 1 lakh logins in April last year, we now have 4.4 lakh logins, where the average time spent in each session is 40 minutes. So roughly, we’ve clocked 35 million minutes of usage as of January, up from 18 million minutes in April,” he said.
GSM and CDMA services provider Tata Teleservices has set up 540 Wi-Fi hotspots countrywide since April. Some of its major contracts include the T3 international airport terminal in New Delhi, the Wankhede cricket stadium in Mumbai, besides five-star hotels and cafes in several cities.
This business is separate from its consumer oriented Wi-Fi dongle service under the Tata Photon brand. Gabriel said that Wi-Fi solutions were becoming more relevant for mobile phone companies as they entailed lower cost of deployment and rollouts compared with 3G and 4G networks that offer higher speeds while browsing the internet.
While airwaves and mobile permits need to be bought for launching 3G and 4G services, Wi-Fi airwaves are free. Tata Tele’s Wi-Fi hotspots ride on the company’s existing fibre networks along with that of Tata Communications Ltd. Top operators Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular purchased 3G airwaves for Rs 67,710 crore in a government auction in 2010 and had priced them at a premium to consumers to recover costs. However, low consumer adoption pushed them to reduce tariffs.
Bharti Airtel, Aircel and Reliance Jio Infocomm purchased 4G airwaves for over Rs 38,000 crore four years ago, but Bharti Airtel is the lone company that has begun offering the high speed service via dongles to consumers. Wi-Fi hotspots compliment 3G services as roaming between operators has been barred, Gabriel said, adding that having Wi-Fi hotspots in public spaces will soon become a hygiene factor as smartphone users demand constant connectivity.