India might have the cheapest data rates in the world, but that does not mean it is still accessible to everyone. And that is exactly the problem the Bengaluru startup Wi-Fi Dabba set out to solve three years ago. The startup wants to fix the connectivity problem with its “reliable and affordable service” called supernodes.
Founded in 2016, Wi-Fi Dabba started with the aim to offer “sasta” internet connection. “When we started three years ago, we believed the key issue was in last mile connectivity and pricing. So, we worked as ISP aggregators, buying connections from players who use fibre technology,” CEO Karam Lakshman tells indianexpress.com.
As days and months passed, the company realized that the real problem is with the “fibre” itself. “We realised that fibre is the key issue so worked on developing a solution for the middle mile – supernodes,” Karam explains.
The cost of access to broadband is still high for most Indians and this is largely due to the third-party hardware, software and networking infrastructure. Couple this with the need to dig trenches to lay expensive and delicate fibre optic and the cost goes even higher.
How WiFi Dabba is using lasers to offer cheap data
WiFi Dabba doesn’t rely on third-party hardware, software or infrastructure and instead has developed proprietary hardware, software and networking. This saves a lot on vendor margins and more.
It’s supernodes technology is in fact a new way of transmitting data. The supernodes are essentially eye-safe lasers that form a mesh overhead and throughput data. This eliminates the need to dig roads and lay fibre, which saves a lot of money and time. Supernodes are then connected to Wifi Dabba routers which then transmit a wifi signal.
“Any user can connect to the Wifi Dabba signal and login with their Mobile Number and OTP,” says Karam. “The cost saving is so high we are able to offer Gigabit internet at the price of solving a Captcha Code puzzle.”
However, users who want uninterrupted services can purchase data much the same way they would top-up their FUP on a broadband connection. Currently, Wifi Dabba is offering 1GB data at just Re 1.
How supernodes work?
The supernodes work using eye-safe lasers, a technology that communicates over distances of up to 2 km with no latency, claims the company, adding that they can throughput up to 100Gbps.
Each supernode is connected to various switches that distribute bandwidth to WiFi Dabba routers in homes. These routers too are designed in-house and come with dual-band connectivity.
Supernode that will transmit data has been placed in “The Address” in Bellandur, Bengaluru, while the building that will receive the data is “Jordan” in Kasavanahall, Bengaluru. The distance between the two locations can be covered in 15 min by car.
The installation of the tower, mounting the supernode and configuring the device on both the buildings took around two working days. The supernode includes a weather sensor, CCTV, and other devices to monitor the conditions around it.
For “The Address”, a 1Gbps connection is provided at the location for throughput. “Jordan” has no Internet connectivity of its own and a mesh of WiFi Dabba Routers has been installed to provide wifi signal. The mesh is connected to the supernode receiving bandwidth from The Address.
WiFi Dabba’s Karam says, “The connection is currently being used by over 80 residents of Jordan. The connection is the only internet connection in the area to provide 1Gbps speed. No weather phenomenon has caused downtime.”
What experts have to say about supernodes
But it’s not as easy as it sounds. CounterPoint research analyst Neil Shah believes the lasers WiFi Dabba is using to offer “cheap” data have potential but are also problematic in some situations. Shah explains this is a relatively cheaper technique called Free Space Optical Communication (FSO) tech. “This has been used for almost a decade for specific applications but to limited success in commercial use by telco due to some of the technical limitations especially reliability in rain, dust, foggy or hot conditions.”
“The technology has been popular to transmit between satellites or in environments where deploying optical fibre network is costlier,” he says, adding that it is interesting that WiFi Dabba is using this tech to build a low-cost data network.
Shah says the the tech is yet to be proven for mass deployments and is not standardised or adopted by the tech industry. “Many companies who have invested and have been developing the products for this tech has been struggling over the last decade. But I believe the business model and target segment for the WiFi Dabba aligns with this tech well,” he adds.
How to get a WiFi Dabba connection?
Home users will get the connection free of cost. Once a user opts in, she will receive a Wifi Dabba Gigabit Router with DabbaOS running on it. It will be connected to the nearest supernode and the user will be able to start browsing at gigabit speeds for free by simply logging in. Karam says the “connection will offer the user a choice of solving a Captcha Code or watching an Ad.”
However, those who prefer uninterrupted services can purchase data too. WiFi Dabba also offers option to add-on different services such as data saver, private SSID, and anti-virus on demand for homes.
For MSMEs and Enterprises, WiFi Dabba offers upto 20Gbps leased-line quality connectivity at almost a 10th of the cost. Local Cable Operators and Residential Welfare Associations can also opt to manage their own Supernode.
“Wifi Dabba is currently accepting pre-orders for homes, offices and retail establishments. The connection will be available as soon as our mesh of supernode across the city is ready. We currently offer services to over 100 buildings in the coliving sector,” explains Karam.
“Over the years the OS will evolve and maybe even have its own Play Store. We have worked with DoT and TRAI and follow regulatory guidelines provided in WANI (WiFi Access Network Interface). Security is paramount and we have worked hard to implement state-of-the-art security,” says Karam. The company hasn’t revealed any plan to expand beyond Bengaluru for now.
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