Cisco and Google Wi-Fi partnership: Key questions they haven’t answered

Cisco and Google’s ambitious announcement for free WiFi zones in India has open and loose ends to be fixed, and fixed fast.

free wi-fi
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Last week, I had been to the Cisco India Summit, at Kochi – this was the 5th edition of their annual media and analyst conference, this year’s theme being “The Power of Alliances”. 

One of the first things to be launched at this event - Cisco announced its partnership with Google for free Wi-Fi across 25 locations in Bengaluru, saying this will extend to 200 locations, before moving to other cities. Google Station would be powering this ambitious initiative. Announced with much fanfare in the opening keynote, by Sameer Garde, MD, Cisco India & SAARC alongwith with Sajith Sivanandan, MD and Business Head, Google Pay, this “Free WiFi” initiative was touted as the next game changer in connectivity in India.

We got to see a live demo video call from Jayanagar Bus Stand and Cubbon Park in Bengaluru, where the Free Wifi spots were active. While it is a good opening, there remain a few key questions that Cisco and Google haven’t answered as yet. 

Monetization of the model: It has been clarified that this is not a CSR initiative from either Cisco or Google. In that case, how will they monetize this and what will be the model to do so? Else, the question will remain on who pays for the huge bandwidth costs. Will that be a sunk cost for now?

Leveraging of partners and service providers: Cisco is still figuring it its go-to-market or expansion strategy for this, meaning will either service providers or channel partners be leveraged to take free Wi-Fi to the remotest pockets of the country?

Why Free Wi-Fi in Tier-1 cities: This initiative is being positioned for the under-connected and not the unconnected. Here is the tricky part – in an era of mobile data democratization, do people in Tier-1 cities such as Bengaluru really need free-Wi-Fi? And what happens with the advent of 5G?

Data Trading Marketplace: Every individual user carries a huge amount of unused data, so how will Free Wi-Fi work? If so, will unused data of consumers help to form a “data trading internet service marketplace” that can help feed Free-WiFi to Tier-3 and beyond?

Cisco’s answers to these questions are important, for the model to kick off and sustain, and truly bridge the digital divide in India.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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