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Bharti to enter WiFi space soon
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Bharti Airtel, the country’s largest telecom operator by revenues and customers, will soon enter the WiFi business space. Starting next week, the telecom major will rollout ‘hotspots’ in hundreds of locations across the country. Currently, Tata Communications is the largest player in this space, while state-owned BSNL is also in the process of setting up WiFi hotspots across the country.

A hotspot is any location that offers wireless internet access. This implies, any person carrying a notebook (laptop) or a WiFi-enabled smartphone can access the internet from a hotspot. Bharti Airtel executives said that the company plans to have 1,000 hotspots nationally by the end of 2010. But the catch is that this facility will initially be available only for existing Airtel broadband customers.

“Airtel WiFi hotspots will be strategically located at leading premium hotels, hospitals, chains of restaurants, coffee shops and corporate buildings that are the hub of corporate, community and social activities. For us, this is an initiative to increase customer stickiness and enhance average revenue per user (ARPU) of our broadband customer base,”said Vikas Singh, CMO for Telemedia Services at Bharti Airtel.

Market leader Tata Communications offers connectivity at more than 500 hotspots in India across major hotels, airports, educational institutes and cafes. But, industry watchers said that increasingly, individual customers no longer subscribe to WiFi services, but rather seek out places that offer wireless internet services for free. This trend has resulted in several cafes, restaurants and other commercial outlets such as airports and hospitals include free WiFi as an added incentive for their customers.

Additionally, several industry executives ET spoke to also pointed out that attractiveness for WiFi had decreased considerably as all high-end users who needed internet on the move now used data cards. “There are about 1.5 million data card users in the country — these are the high-end customers who would otherwise have subscribed to WiFi services. The latest offering by Tata Teleservices and Reliance Communications in this space provides broadband speeds and enables users to access the net on the go, as against having to seek out a hotspot. This is perhaps the primary reason for the slow offtake of WiFi hotspots as they do not present a business proposition,” explained a top executive with a leading telecom company.

But Mr Singh said that data cards faced serious constraints due to the spectrum crunch and network congestion that impacted the quality of their services. He also added that Bharti Airtel would aggressively target business establishments to sell its WiFi services: “For instance, we see guest houses in big cities as a huge market as these are largely used by professionals who need access to the net,” he added.

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