Unwire Bangalore

Unwire Bangalore started about a year back when the then IT Secretary got excited about the idea. It was a way to maintain the leadership position of Bangalore in the global IT scene.

Over the first six months of 2006, an expert committee comprising experts from academia (IISc & IIIT-B), industry (BSNL, HP & Intel) and government (IT department) sent out an initial request for interest and engaged about 30 vendors; after an initial screening based on technical expertise, seven consortia were short-listed; the final RFP document running into more than 100 pages was circulated. The parties are to submit the final proposal by Jan 31, 2007. We expect to award the contract by mid-February. A trial run is to start before March 31, 2007. The trial run will have at least 5,000 users using the service for at least 90 days; there will be a monitoring of the engineering side by the experts and user-expectation by media (CNBC and NDTV for example) before the final roll out by mid-2007.

What is special about Unwire Bangalore is the fact that there is zero direct investment from the government and it will play an enabling role (permitting assets for mounting equipment, getting spectral license on priority..). There is active involvement from several government departments (e-governance, police, healthcare, education, traffic..), who will use the infrastructure to speed up their own computerization plans. Several Secretaries to the Government have been involved with the project. The focus will be “citizens”, with business and government benefiting and contributing to the success. It will be vendor neutral (no “lock-in” permitted) and technology agnostic (though most of the parties are talking of a mix and match of Wi-Max and Wi-Fi). The emphasis is on standards-based solutions (including evolving standards). We expect it to be city-wide (about 600 square kilometers) and not a small part (about a square kilometer).

With consumers tasting mobile phone the user expectation is similar; “can we have seamless mobility for data on our “computer” the way we have seamless mobility of voice on our mobile phone?” is the central thought of the 800+ users who tasted Wi-Max during Oct 28 – November 1, 2006 (IT.in event in Bangalore) where Wi-Max was demonstrated for free public use.

What is the business model? Will it succeed? Will it work at all? Why not take the 3G route?

We do NOT have answers; the fact that 30+ vendors have been talking to us for more than a year, sending proposals, planning demos etc., gives us the confidence it will fly! Interestingly, San Jose Mercury News carried a story on “Unwire Bangalore” and the story had some kind words for the project. Only time will tell.

(Presented in the IEEE COMSWARE International Conference in Bangalore during the Panel Discussion on January 9, 2007)

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