By Banasree Purkayastha
Sreenath K, a porter at the Ernakulam junction railway station in Kerala, recently made headlines when he cleared the Kerala Public Service Commission exams. For his studies, he relied on RailWire’s public Wi-Fi, a Google India venture in collaboration with Railtel and Indian Railways to provide free, high-speed Wi-Fi at railway stations.
Mobile telephony—5G, 4G and their ilk —coupled with the debut of faster and smarter smartphones across the price spectrum may hog the headlines, but it is Wi-Fi networks that make the promise of reliable connectivity and digital inclusion realisable. Nowhere is this truer than in India, where the government’s many gigantic digital initiatives—RailWire WiFi, Bharat Net, Smart Cities Mission, Digital India—hinge on public Wi-Fi hotspots for their success.
For Ruckus Networks, which is working with Google to power the Google Station Wi-Fi hotspots currently operating in 400 railway stations across the country (it has tied up for 6500 of the 8000 stations where Google aims to provide Wi-Fi hotspots), its forte is providing devices and technologies that can ensure Wi-Fi connectivity in buses, trains, and in temporary locations where Ethernet connectivity is absent, unreliable or cost-prohibitive. The tech company, part of the $7 billion ARRIS international, works with multiple service providers to power Wi-Fi spots in high-traffic locations such as airports, universities, cricket stadiums, football grounds, mass transit stations and malls. It has worked with Reliance Jio to put up telco-grade Wi-Fi access points (AP) in seven cricket stadiums. Again, Flipkart’s warehouses across the country are connected by Ruckus’s Wi-Fi solutions. There’s even a Ruckus Wi-Fi AP on the side of the Taj Mahal.
The Sunnyvale, California-based company is now looking to partner the Indian government on many of its digital initiatives. “We are in talks with the central government as well as several state governments for their rural connectivity projects, Smart Cities projects and other digital initiatives,” Ian Whiting, president, Ruckus Networks, told FE at its annual event titled ‘Big Dogs’ in Seoul earlier this month.
Ruckus has earlier worked with GTPL for the Digital Gujarat project, deploying 1500 APs in 55 towns and 22 districts in the state, creating 254 public Wi-Fi hotspots providing 11,000 citizens access to the internet. Gandhinagar in the same state is India’s first smart city whose connectivity is powered by Ruckus. Deployment for Bhopal smart city was initiated in September 2017.
As Whiting explains, Ruckus’s technologies are tailor-made for solving the unique challenges thrown up by the mega digital connectivity projects in India. The congestion of people, devices and bandwidth-hungry apps makes for challenges that current wireless tech cannot handle. Adding to the complexity of this environment are diverse device categories and apps, such as instant messaging, IoT control messages and voice-over-Wi-Fi. “We have a long history of delivering products and technologies that go beyond the current state-of-the-art to meet the world’s most demanding network requirements while driving down the cost-per-connection. Ruckus R730 and Ruckus Ultra-High Density Technology Suite are the latest examples,” he said.
By 2022, 53% of global internet traffic is expected to be serviced by Wi-Fi, with 20% and 27% by cellular and wired networks. Cummulative shipments of Wi-Fi devices are set to touch 30 billion. In such a high-density, heterogenous device and application environment, it is the new 802.11 ax standard that is expected to take Wi-Fi performance to new heights.
Ruckus R730 comes in handy here. It is the first IoT- and LTE-ready, 802.11ax wireless AP and delivers high-resolution, latency-sensitive video in ultra-high density user environments such as stadiums, train stations and schools. In addition, the R730 complies with both the new WPA3 security protocol and Wi-Fi Enhanced Open for more secure connections on public networks.
Ruckus competes with tech giants such as Cisco and HP in providing wired and wireless networking solutions and switching gear. However, as Sudarshan Boosupalli, country head, India and Saarc, Ruckus Networks, says, the cost of deploying solutions from Ruckus is half that of its closest rivals. “In India, local vendors are few unlike that in China. So it’s mainly a fight among us three.”
India is important to Ruckus not only for its market potential (an annual $100 million Wi-Fi market) but also for tech development. In 2015, it opened its India Development Centre in Bengaluru with 90 people. The headcount is now around 325, with 65% of the team focused on engineering. “The key products developed in India include network analytics platform, 1000G Campus Ethernet switch, the recently launched APs E510 and M510, controller software and IoT platform,” said Boosupalli. “Current focus areas include wireless access point software development, ICX switching software (routing, switching, forwarding platform), IoT platform software, network analytics software.”
India is seen as a high-growth potential market for IoT and it has recently taken the lead in developing Smart Cities. However, it has not seen too many large-scale IoT solutions, despite having a large ecosystem of solution providers and system integrators. Ruckus is addressing the IoT market by providing the critical ‘glue’ between the world of sensors, cameras and things with the world of Big Data and analytics. The Ruckus IoT suite enables organisations to readily construct a secure IoT access network that consolidates multiple physical-layer IoT networks into a single network.
“Our development of wireless skillsets and base could easily help make India a hub for IoT or wireless industry,” said Whiting. “Bengaluru is going to be our core innovation hub.”
(The story was originally published on Financial Express)