Public utilities lag behind even as food courts, educational institutions provide satisfactory services

While WiFi, or wireless fidelity, often described by many as “usually a pleasant surprise” remains elusive in many areas where one would anticipate it, it occasionally turns up at the most unexpected places and times.

A scene at the AC waiting room in Chennai Central railway station that has been witnessing increasing crowds in the recent weeks describes it all. Pruthvi Shah, a marketing executive, waiting for his train, which has been delayed, restlessly says, “There is so much work to do, only if there was WiFi. I expected Chennai Central to have it at least.”

“This absence of WiFi at prominent places is sad. Especially at airports, when the waiting time exceeds 40 minutes, there is so much productivity lost,” says Kiruba Shankar, blogger and CEO, Business Blogging.

Renewal of contract

Railway officials attribute the lack of WiFi to the pending renewal of contract with the provider and assure that it will resume soon.

“The pity is that the browsing centre in the station is not working too. If you need a print out, you have to go to shops across the road,” says a security officer at Chennai Central.

At the airport, where too the WiFi facility does not work, AAI officials say it will be restored as soon as the renovation of the place and the upgradation of the network are complete.

Cafes resurgent

But catching up are several coffee cafes, fast food joints and spas. “Subway, Ascendas food court… all have it, but it always means that I have to eat something to surf. Isn't time we have a reliable connection for surfing, rather than it being just an extra incentive,” asks Vijaya Shankar, a finance professional.

If all that setting up a WiFi involves is a connection being linked to the provider's ‘Know Your Customer (KYC),' which most experts say, is not a massive task, then what hinders cities from being browsing zones? The answer to this lies in the cost, coverage and security concerns of setting up a connection, says Bhaskar Ramamurthi, professor, Indian Institute of Technology Madras.

Setting up access points and determining how to charge are complex things the provider decides, based on if the facility is a service or business, say experts.

“Besides, to ensure security, it is better to have a connection that can be tracked back to its origin, in case of misuse,” says Prof. Ramamurthi. Major cities in Europe do the same, while charging for the connection, and Indian cities like Bangalore and Delhi, have WiFi rooms, especially in airports that allow an hour of free internet, by employing proper verification methods.

“Users will be ready to pay for a reliable connection that adheres to quality standards. Players need to understand that it is a revenue generating opportunity,” says Mr. Kiruba Shankar.

Educational institutions

The scenario, however, looks better in educational institutions. “It started with just one lab three years ago, from where it went to cover more blocks. Now we have WiFi shelters everywhere in the campus, and we can browse even in the canteen,” says Jai Hari Raju, a student of College of Engineering Guindy.

While two campuses of the University of Madras are WiFi zones, efforts are being made to make the other campuses WiFi-enabled too before the new academic year, says its Vice Chancellor G. Thiruvasagam, adding that a budget of Rs.3 crore has been allotted for the same.

“Free internet in the campus is very necessary for students and faculty members, and most importantly research scholars,” he adds.

Citing significant congestion on existing networks that would prevent 3G from becoming a rage as a reason, some operators believe that at least in the initial years it would be cheaper to transfer data over a reliable WiFi connection; many also say the possibility of reverse could change the order,

“It is certain, that 3G would become like cameras in cell phones. Not having a WiFi connection might not be much of a problem then,” Mr. Kiruba Shankar says.

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