Driving home the gigabit economy dream

Policymakers must urgently pursue opening the lower 6GHz band, vital for high-speed broadband access and achieving the Digital India goal.

VoicenData Bureau
New Update


Policymakers must urgently pursue opening the lower 6GHz band, vital for high-speed broadband access and achieving the Digital India goal.


The Wi-Fi Revolution stands as the unheralded messiah, ushering in the data revolution of the modern era. While the advantages of the cellular mobile revolution are well understood, the latest 5G technology and the anticipation of the next-gen 6G by 2030, make it easy to overlook the fact that approximately 70% of data is consumed indoors. It is also important to understand that most of these higher ‘G’ cellular technologies rely on higher frequency spectrums which makes it difficult to penetrate buildings effectively. Consequently, with the advent of 5G and the anticipated 6G, there is a pressing need for increased support from next-gen Wi-Fi technologies within buildings to complement and ensure a seamless user experience.

"Wi-Fi plays a critical role in delivering broadband access to users inside buildings, even when the fibre is used as the primary backhaul infrastructure."

During the recently concluded Wireless Global Congress APAC 2024 in Delhi, organised by Wireless Broadband Alliance and Broadband India Forum (as a co-host), the vision was articulated for a Wi-Fi-powered Digital India, emphasising the necessity and capabilities of modern Wi-Fi. The conference provided valuable insights, emphasising that Wi-Fi is an indispensable tool for facilitating a Gigabit Economy. It was also recognised that the average data consumption for Fixed Broadband (when used alongside Wi-Fi) in India exceeds 190GB per month, which is over ten times the average mobile data consumption of approximately 18GB per month and has the potential to reach up to 20 times the mobile data consumption.


Where does India stand?

India finds itself in a somewhat anomalous developmental situation. While it strides forward with the latest cellular mobile technology, it remains reliant on older Wi-Fi technologies – specifically, Wi-Fi 5 and older versions – which are suboptimal for the demands of the digital age. Modern next-gen Wi-Fi technologies, Wi-Fi 6E and Wi-Fi 7, not only offer higher speed and lower latency, thereby providing a user experience akin to, if not better than, 5G when indoors – whether in malls, airports, offices, hotels, or public spaces – but also deliver increased security and efficiency. Through interoperability techniques, they enable seamless broadband access across various homogeneous and heterogeneous networks. Wi-Fi 7, built upon the latest IEEE standards, offers significant complementarity with 5G, enhancing the customer’s ability to enjoy 5G-like speeds both indoors and outdoors.

India’s Wi-Fi infrastructure, based on Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) and utilising 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz spectrum, is inadequate to support the data-intensive services of 5G and 6G.


The conference emphasised that despite Wi-Fi having less than a twentieth of the spectrum (license-exempt) compared to cellular mobile technologies, it boasts a substantial economic value of USD 33 trillion. Currently, Wi-Fi handles 60-70% of global data traffic and facilitates high-quality data experiences for 2.2 billion devices. The global expansion of Wi-Fi is indeed impressive, with an annual shipment of 338 million devices (including Wi-Fi 6E) and a network spanning 540 million global Public Wi-Fi Hotspots (PWHs), with continued growth anticipated. It is likely to remain the dominant technology for data consumption well into the foreseeable future, particularly since data is likely to grow predominantly indoors. However, India has only about 0.1% of the global market share of this critical element of digital infrastructure.

For developing countries like India, Wi-Fi remains the most cost-effective means of data consumption. Trends indicate that while per capita data usage continues to rise, the cost per gigabyte of data continues to decline steadily. Therefore, the country urgently requires next-gen Wi-Fi technologies, such as Wi-Fi 6E now and Wi-Fi 7 in the future. It also needs a significantly higher penetration of PWHs, to fulfil its digital aspirations. Implementing PM WANI for these PWHs would enable the attainment of desired security levels through user identification and traceability.

The next big thing: Open Roaming


The latest advancement in the Wi-Fi world is Open Roaming technology. It offers users a seamless experience as they transition from one location to another, both within the country and abroad. By decoupling access from identity, Open Roaming addresses the challenges associated with re-authentication and payment authorisation as users move across networks. Consequently, it tackles the crucial challenge of achieving ubiquitous and affordable universal access. Moreover, Open Roaming aids in addressing security concerns, standardisation, and quality of service issues while users are on the move. Embracing Open Roaming for Public Wi-Fi is pivotal for enabling seamless and interoperable Wi-Fi services in the future, and India would benefit greatly from its adoption.

The global expansion of Wi-Fi is impressive: an annual shipment of 338 million devices, including Wi-Fi 6E and a network spanning 540 million Public Wi-Fi Hotspots.

PM-WANI, the government’s and TRAI’s globally unique wireless access network initiative for public Wi-Fi, is as commendable as Aadhar or the India Stack and could rightfully be considered the UPI of telecom. However, two of its three years of existence were impacted by COVID-19, resulting in muted growth with barely 2 lakh PWHs, primarily due to some initial challenges and a lack of public awareness. There may also be natural resistance from other telecom incumbents, along with a pressing need for regulatory intervention to establish suitable backhaul tariffs for this crucial emerging sector, which requires nurturing and support during its initial years in the public interest.


During the conference, a nuanced and calibrated approach to foster the successful growth of PM-WANI was proposed. This approach involves identifying niche areas rather than pursuing mass coverage. Some of these identified locations include study centres, digital libraries, special fairs, religious gatherings like the Maha Kumbh Mela, areas with high population density experiencing mobile network congestion, or locations lacking adequate coverage. Such targeted strategies aim to maximise the impact of PM-WANI and ensure its effectiveness in addressing connectivity challenges across diverse contexts.

While Wi-Fi has less than a twentieth of the spectrum (license-exempt) compared to cellular mobile technologies, it boasts USD 33 trillion in economic value.

The key enabler: 6GHz spectrum


The deployment of next-gen Wi-Fi technologies hinges upon the availability of the 6GHz spectrum. It is crucial to recognise that the current Wi-Fi infrastructure in India, based on Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) and utilising a limited unlicensed spectrum of 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, is inadequate to support the data-intensive services of 5G and 6G. Therefore, India must urgently embrace the adoption and implementation of Wi-Fi 6E (802.11ax) and Wi-Fi 7 (802.11be) standards. These standards allow high speeds, low latency, and improved service levels comparable to 5G networks, facilitating seamless utilisation of advanced applications and innovative services by customers.

However, these modern Wi-Fi standards require a license-exempt 6 GHz spectrum. This spectrum has already been adopted by most major economies worldwide, including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, the EU, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, the UK and USA, among others.

It is essential to recognise that connectivity to various devices, whether within homes or enterprises, relies heavily on routers with Wi-Fi capability. Thus, Wi-Fi plays a critical role in delivering broadband access to users inside buildings, even when the fibre is used as the primary backhaul infrastructure. Regardless of the media used for connectivity—whether it is IMT, fibre optic cables, or satellite—the last hop for indoor usage would primarily have to be only Wi-Fi.


Over the next few years, it is also expected that there will be a substantial increase in the number of connected devices per person by 2030 from 15 today to as much as 60 since more and more surveillance cameras, remote controls and IoT devices are coming into operation. Modern Wi-Fi technologies like Wi-Fi 6E and Wi-Fi7 which use license-exempt 6GHz spectrum and high channel bandwidths, of up to 320 MHz, would be imperative to achieve good QoE inside buildings.

With Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Wi-Fi together, we are entering a new age of AI-led data-driven innovation which involves leveraging AI algorithms, Natural Language Processing, and other AI techniques in advanced and modern Wi-Fi technologies and equipment. AI can quickly analyse large amounts of data and use it to make predictions about network performance. This process helps in moving from a reactive to a more proactive approach, With AI, new use cases like federated Cloud architecture, cybersecurity, network automation, network design and optimisation, AI operational efficiency, Digital Twins, and AI-based training solutions can be realised more efficiently.

New and innovative applications in areas such as disaster management, healthcare, etc. would also be based on intense data and therefore demand the use of strong and modern Wi-Fi like 6E and 7 along with AI.

Wi-Fi is a win-win for all stakeholders as it benefits consumers, 5G operators, the introduction of 6G, and also helps protect incumbent satellite and fixed backhaul services and, in fact, the overall economy. Therefore, it is high time – in fact overdue, for policymakers in India to also urgently seek the opening of at least the lower 6GHz band in a license-exempt manner as the proliferation of high-speed, low latency broadband access in unconnected and difficult-to-connect areas is imperative to help in digital inclusivity and acceleration in reaching national goals of Digital India. India cannot afford to lag behind its peers in this vital aspect. 

 TV Ramachandran

The author is Hon. FIET (London) and President of Broadband India Forum.

Views are personal.

Research inputs by Debashish Bhattacharya.