Connecting the city?: Technical, financial doubts surface over free WiFi for Karachi

Memon had announced the facility will be provided via LED streetlights across the metropolis.

Our Correspondents June 05, 2015

KARACHI: A day after Sindh information and local government minister Sharjeel Memon announced that free WiFi will be launched for the public across Karachi, he clarified that he will first consult legal experts about providing this facility along with LED streetlights and CCTV cameras.

"The streetlights in Karachi will be connected to a modern LED system, through which free WiFi will be made available in the entire city," explained Memon. "We plan to launch this system across the metropolis, including the railway stations, bus stops, educational institutions and hospitals, but will initially kick off the project in a few areas that will be selected after a feasibility report is completed."

Inaugurating a sports complex in Landhi on Thursday, Memon had announced the scheme in the wake of the Punjab government's decision to provide similar facilities in its larger cities earlier this year.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement MPA Khalid Ahmed, who had accompanied the information minister at the inauguration, termed it yet another promise that the provincial government would never fulfil. "With the performance of the Pakistan Peoples Party government over the last seven years, the citizens know that they cannot be fooled by the incumbent government and its representatives," he remarked. "Their rhetoric does not match with the reality."

An impossible dream?

"Based on technical and even economic grounds, it seems next to impossible," Wahajus Siraj, the convener of the Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan, told The Express Tribune.

Siraj explained that WiFi devices typically cover a range of up to 200 feet but did not function at their best if installed at a height.

He also believed that it would financially be a challenge to equip a city the size of Karachi with free WiFi through streetlights. He put the cost of equipping a single streetlight with a WiFi device at around Rs50,000; doing the same with 500,000 streetlights would, by this estimate, cost Rs25 billion - and that would just be the installation cost, he pointed out, adding that the operational cost would also be millions of rupees.

Even if the government decides to go ahead with the plan despite the costs, the project could be challenged by the cellular mobile operators. These companies have spent over $1 billion combined to acquire the spectrum for mobile broadband as well as millions more on network rollout but have yet to recoup their investments.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 6th, 2015.


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