Wi-Fi and LPWAN technologies are the foundation for establishing a smart city environment, as they offer connectivity for the city’s people and devices, which is a key prerequisite for all smart city applications. While LPWAN technologies are very promising and will support a large growth in M2M type applications, it’s still Wi-Fi that carries most of the IoT and smart cities traffic worldwide. The following is taken from the annual WBA industry report now available.
Wi-Fi networks are a very good option for the connectivity of not only digital mature cities, but also for cities that are taking their initial steps in the digital area. As a prominent example, Google India has recently developed a large scale high-speed Wi-Fi network for nearly 200 of India’s major railway stations. This project has enabled millions of Indian citizens to gain everyday access to high-speed internet. Beyond connecting many users to the internet, this Wi-Fi network can be seen as a case study about the disruptive and transformational power of a single infrastructure project, particularly in developing countries where the level of personal access remains incredibly low. The main characteristics of the project are as follows:
Project Stakeholders: The Wi-Fi network has been established by Google in collaboration with Indian Railways. Furthermore, RailTel4 is involved as a provider of internet services through its fiber network that is available along railway lines. RailTel provides such services to RailWire, which is a retail broadband initiative established by Railtel and the Indian Ministry of Railways.
The rationale behind a railway installation: A railway station is typically a concentration point that brings together thousands of users and their devices. Therefore, the provision of a high-speed infrastructure that enables low-latency connectivity is particularly important. Moreover, the exploitation of broadband and fiber infrastructures established along railway lines is becoming possible and is key to support the backbone capacity in the country.
Applications and Speed: The project enables users to access the internet and browse web sites (including multimedia) with a very good Quality of Service under limited bandwidth conditions. This includes access to social media and multi-media, which is nowadays typical for all internet users. During peak hours, the number of users is exploding and it is more challenging to guarantee high bandwidth and low latency internet access sessions.
Business Incentives and Business Model: Google’s main incentive to engage in this project was to gain more users of course. During the last couple of years, more than 100 million Indian users have been connecting to the internet for the first time, which means that India has become the country with the second highest number of internet users following China. This mass of users generates more traffic, data and demand for Google’s global services. On the other hand, the other partners (such as RailTel) have been considering and implanting viable and revenue generating business models. For example, RailTel offers an ad-enabled login, which enables ad-related business models.
The project is currently focusing on the provision of internet connectivity. However, a number of direct extensions and applications are possible, such as the collection of user data in exchange of providing them with internet connectivity, based on a consent-driven process and the offering of infotainment applications during the journeys. In the long run, it will also serve as a basis for the provision of smart city and smart transportation services to passengers. Overall, endless opportunities emerge following the development of a connectivity infrastructure in a smart city environment. This is the reason why private enterprises and public organizations engage in public-private partnerships aimed at providing large-scale infrastructures in a way that distributes costs and diversifies risks.
Even after the advent of connectivity technologies such as 4G/5G and LPWAN, this Wi-Fi network will continue to serve the passengers, yielding a significant return on investment in the coming years.
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