A cable TV operator once quipped that “fiber to the home is the technology of the future, and always will be.” One might be tempted to make the same quip about fixed wireless, which service providers have been trying to make a major mass market access platform for three decades.
Indian service provider BSNL has been testing fixed wireless as an access method to provide Internet access to rural villages, most recently using equipment made by Vihaan Networks, with local distribution using Wi-Fi. In the past BSNL has explored use of WiMAX as well.
BSNL hopes to fund much of the deployment using universal service funds.
Vihaan installations typically rely on solar power, obviating the need for electrical lines and optical fiber backhaul. The telecom backbone networks historically link cities and towns, with mobile coverage extending about 5 km beyond the fiber backbone.
Generally speaking, rural Internet access is a matter of the last 15 km to 20 km from an optical fiber point of presence, researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology have argued.
Both those requirements are important since 70 percent of India’s population, about 750 million people, live in its 600,000 villages. Some 85 percent of these villages are in the plains, an important topographical feature since it enables line of sight communications.
The average village has 250 to 300 households, and occupies an area of 5 square kilometers.
Villages are thus spaced 2 km to 3 km apart, with market centers typically 30 km to 40 km apart.
Each market center serves 250 to 300 villages in a radius of about 20 km.
A typical village may have only 100 households with disposable income.
The basic business model scenario involves 100 village households able to spend US $1 to $2 per month for telephony and data services.
Assuming an average of two public kiosks per village, the revenue of a public kiosk can be of the order of US$ 100 per month.
Apart from this, a few wealthy households in each village can afford private connections. That implies capital investment of $300 or less to support the point of presence and local distribution.