In Kolkata, Wi-Fi Takes a Back Seat to Physical Infrastructure

Posted on November 29, 2013



KOLKATA (Techonomy) — I thought I would spend two weeks in Kolkata, India, sitting on my family’s patio backdropped by palm trees, leisurely writing away. But there was a fatal flaw to my plan: My family warned me upon my arrival that I would have to find an office building that provided public Wi-Fi access before I could get online.

The inconvenient problem is city-wide. Anannya Roy, a college student in Kolkata, says she is starved of good Internet coverage on campus. “We are a community with the wants of Wi-Fi, settling for something far less contenting,” Roy says. Most Indian households keep fixed broadband services rather than Wi-Fi. Internet capabilities depend largely on the availability of properly equipped cell towers. People settle for sporadic 2G or 3G wireless Internet coverage, with network blackouts frequent, Roy says.

India’s largest mobile providers, including Vodafone, Airtel, and Tata DoCoMo, offer pay-as-you-go options to connect to 2G and 3G, which Roy finds affordable but slow. “The majority of my friends here use the Internet for very base-level work, mostly pertaining to casual surfing for entertainment,” she says. “YouTube, Skype, and social media being high on their lists, the speed and bandwidth do not qualify as major concerns.”

I began to wonder how a developing country could ever thrive without a much better level of Internet access. Kolkata is not as technologically developed as Bangalore, Delhi, or even Mumbai. But with an urban population of nearly 4.5 million and a metropolitan region population of more than 14 million, it is among the 10 most populous cities in the world.

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