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India's Dishnet pushes for nationwide Wi-Fi

Company seeks to be country's largest Wi-Fi provider, with a rollout of 6,000 hot spots in 38 Indian cities due in two years.

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India's Dishnet Wireless aims to dominate the country's nascent mobile-Internet market by rolling out nationwide service in two years, the company said on Wednesday.

Dishnet says it will use WiMax base stations to link Wi-Fi hot spots, where properly equipped devices such as laptops can download data wirelessly at up to 512 kilobits per second. It wants to be India's largest Wi-Fi provider, with 6,000 hot spots in 38 Indian cities.

Wi-Fi technology, which can provide Internet connectivity at distances of up to about 300 feet, has been in increasingly widespread use in North America and Europe for several years. WiMax, whose networking supports Wi-Fi transmitters, is touted as working over distances of up to 30 miles, but it's still in an earlier stage of development.

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"We expect a subscriber base of 200,000 users when we finish our rollout in 18 to 24 months," V.G. Suri, Dishnet's vice president for marketing, told reporters, adding that the cafe outlets of Barista--run by Dishnet's owner and called by some the "Starbucks of India"--would be key usage points.

Dishnet is targeting heavy users such as companies, as well as price-conscious students and families.

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Suri said Dishnet had spent 2.5 billion rupees ($58 million) on the wireless network, whose expansion will be funded from future sales. The company expects 1.07 billion rupees ($24.63 million) in revenue for the current fiscal year to March 2006, he said.

Madras-based Sify, which had an early start in the Wi-Fi business, has an active broadband service but has yet to start the wide-range WiMax service.

Though India is experiencing a mobile-telecommunications revolution because of rock-bottom call rates, Internet and broadband usage continues to be hobbled by an archaic fixed-line infrastructure.

The government is pushing for faster Internet access in Asia's fourth-largest economy by freeing up several frequency bands and is mulling some tax breaks to make equipment cheaper. It has targeted 3 million broadband customers by December.

Broadband penetration is low in India, where only two in 10,000 people have a high-speed hook-up, compared with one in four in South Korea. Digital subscriber line, or DSL, connections are the main route by which India expects to boost access.

Story Copyright © 2005 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.