Who needs 3G? Lets just go Wifi!

Netgear SPH101I finally tried out a Skype-Wifi phone this weekend. The Netgear Skype Wifi phone SPH101 was on display at a local IT-exhibition here in Pune. The phone was already preconfigured to pick up on the Wifi network at the Netgear stall. I picked up the phone, signed into my skype account and made a local call. The call clarity and quality were average and I enjoyed the feel of the keys and the overall skype experience. The keys were configured similar to any other standard phone with 3 alphabets to a key. The phone retails for approximately Rs. 15,500.00 in India, not a small order by any measure.

The Wifi phone itself not really a revolutionary breakthrough. Skype has been bundled with other data-enabled phones in the past – specifically, Pocket PC and Windows mobile. Also, at that price-point, the Wifi phone does not exactly make sense as a replacement for a fixed line telephone. But what makes Skype exciting to me is the idea of a global identity. With Skype you no longer need to know my locally relevent contact number, area code and country code. I can also purchase local numbers in different countries using SkypeIn and have those identities map to my single Skype identity. The global traveler (ahem ;)) could stay connected wherever there is a civilized airport with Wifi.

As long as I am signed into Skype that is. Mobile data connectivity here in India is a story by itself. I am currently signed into GPRS with AirTel. Depending on the day, month, time, latitude, longitude, environment, and of course – depending on how the god of the air feels (Vayu), I could get average connectivity or no connectivity at all.

Could Skype on 3G change all that? Skype is still exploring VoIP on the Hutchison 3G networks in Europe starting way back in Febuary.

In an effort to scope user demand, 3 Sweden is offering a Skype bundle with a 3G flat-rate subscription and 3G data card. With a mobile flat-rate data plan from Hutchison 3, users can make unlimited Skype calls. Christian Salbaing, MD of Europe Telecommunications at Hutchison 3, downplayed concerns that Skype traffic would cannibalise voice revenues. He described it as an attractive value added service that would help tempt more customers onto its network.

The pleasures of flat-rate dialing were too tempting to resist. As I placed the SPH101 down and turned around to leave the Netgear stall – my thoughts were all about the current 3G bids taking place in India. Is there a solution on the cards?

Just then, my eyes landed on the stalls of a popular VoIP provider in India – Phonewala. Phonewala were offering Broadband+VoIP-enabled PCO’s (for those interested, PCO is short for Public Call Office). With a simple Linksys phone adapter (approximately Rs. 4200), Broadband connection (Rs. 900 p.m for 256kbps) and a handset – PCO’s could offer “dial the world at Rs. 2.99/-“. Great, the local tea-stall owner can now call his cousin in Atlanta at rock-bottom rates.

Brilliant! What if PCO’s began offering Wifi? The entire city of Pune would be connected within a few days. We could give some of the big wireless guys a run for their money. Of course, there remains the question of how would the poor PCO operator get paid? But then with our history of socialism – I am sure the city municipal can work something out 🙂 (for those not laughing yet, please don’t mind my rambling).

At the end of the day, the Indian private wireless providers just don’t want to have to do anything that might disturb their revenues. I wish they would stop haggling and seed a long-delayed wireless data revolution in India. Sure voice revenues would start to whittle down – try focusing on areas where there is real value.

Oh and just so that you should know, using Skype in India is not politically correct according to the Economic Times – “Illegal web calls by BPO face axe“.

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4 Comments on “Who needs 3G? Lets just go Wifi!”

  1. Rish says:

    Couple of points to ponder

    1. I was recently in mountain view and had the chance of trying out the google wifi network – free service for anyone who wants wifi – well the service sucked, I couldn’t get a decent signal within a mile of the city center.

    2. WiFi was not designed for the purpose we are trying to put it to. It has a very short range, requires too many boosters and repeaters to make things work, so there are infrastructure costs associated with it, which everyone seems to be overlooking. Some one will have to set up large scale routers, repeaters etc throughout the city to ensure the right signal strength and QOS, piggybacking onto open WiFi connections doesn’t work well – more and more people are securing their connections.

    3. 3G on the other hand is pretty cool – you get speeds upto 1Mbps easily today here in greater seattle area on the cingular network, I am using it and it works just great. The phone doubles up as a modem for the laptop as well, so you get high speed internet everywhere, all that is needed is to connect the laptop and phone through USB and volia it is all good. And all this is on UMTS I think, with HSDPA, speeds are expected to improve perhaps.

    4. Clearwire – the newest broadband internet provider in US has gone UMTS route instead of WiFi. They are providing wireless broadband internet over UMTS network and it works great.

    5. Even though there is a service cost associated with using the UMTS and HSDPA networks today, this cost is going down. I think in the future a household will end up with one phone/tv/cellphone/data provider that will meet all their needs for one low price. For e.g. with my cingular UMTS phone, I really don’t neeed comcast, my phone can provide me with my primary internet connection. I am sure cingular will start bundling UMTS routers with their cellphones soon and for the price of $50(

  2. Rish says:

    my comment continued…

    (

  3. Rish says:

    ok there is a bug in wordpress… any text after this pattern – [paranthesis][less than sign] is removed…. so here it goes again…

    ( less than INR 2400), they will offer phone, home phone, internet connection and perhaps IPTV too in the future. Simiarly clearwire can eat into cingular’s territory by offering voice over their UMTS networks.

    5. If the zune cell phone ever happens, it will eventually have support for calling your messenger friends, just like skype today.

    5. Then there is the whole WiMax story in the picture too.

    I think in the long run, 3G networks will become so pervasive and low cost that they will restrict WiFi networks to what they are today, a means of sharing files, data, voice, internet connection etc within a small local home and office network.

    In the long run the current line between VoIP, data and voice will blur, all cellular networks are packet switched anyways, if you have pervasive 3G networks that have high speed data capabilities, adding voice and global identity on top of them is a piece of cake…

  4. Rish says:

    The landscape should look something like this in next 3 – 4 years…

    The Device – Smartphone with 5Mp + camera, music/video player, GPS receiver, FM receiver, high speed modem etc built in. In emerging markets this will become the primary computer. Dock it and you get a big screen, keyboard, mouse etc.

    The network – high speed > 5 Mpbs, packet switched networks.

    The applications – voice, data, audio streams, video streams, global identity and roaming, location based services (weather, directions, traffic, friends locations on maps etc), digital wallet (credit cards, identification documents) etc.

    The revenue model –

    For the device – direct sales and sales through service providers.

    For service providers – subscription based and ad based. Basic services could be ad funded, high end services such TV anywhere (some hybrid version of TiVo content mixed with personalized ads delivered anywhere – phone, car, home etc), live traffic routing etc could be subscription based. Targetted location based advertiesing would play an important role in revenue, so would location based applications…