“WiFi is not a technology for India”



How did it all begin for you at
Unifiedgateways?

Unifiedgateways was incubated in Indian
Institute of Science, Bangalore (IISc) in 1999-2000. It is a
five-member product company. It all began with the idea that we
should have no more than one cable attached to our televisions, no
matter where we watch it from. We tried WiFi during 1999-2000;
however, it too failed because of bandwidth constrictions and issues
such as that WiFi can not cross walls.

However, today we have technologies
such as beamforming from Ruckus or even Cisco, so signals do not get
blocked because of walls…

I agree Ruckus works; however, at what
price? You get an access point at a feasible price. However, in order
to convert a non-WiFi board to a WiFi board is very expensive for any
business.

So when did you think powerline
could be an alternative?

When we saw even WiFi did not deliver
the way we actually thought it to be, we thought of going for the
concept of data over powerline. However, back then the powerline
technology was not very evolved and could cater to only three to four
Mbps. So, a few years later, when powerline
technology started giving a throughput of 14 to 85Mbps, we decided to
take the plunge and came out with our first product, capable of
200Mbps data speed for both Ethernet and WiFi.

Can you tell us more about your
products?

Today, we hold a global patent for the
concept of sending television signals over powerline. We have been
trying it with various DTH providers. With our technology we can
provide 10 times more definition than what is being provided today.
Though Tata was not ready to believe us, we are still pursuing them. We
are also in talks with Airtel for
the past one year. We have come across many digital signage TVs,
which have a complete set of PCs and TVs. These PCs have a
configuration of 340 GB HD, 3GB RAM, windows XP and they cost Rs
48,000. However, what it does is dumb job of converting Ethernet
signals to TV compatible signals.

We also have a patent for another
product, which railways can use for data transfer over 23kb line.
Railways need not lay additional fiber in order to go wireless. As of
now, we are trying this product with both the Malaysian and Indian
Railways, for about four to five km range. We also have products with
500 Mbps at 1GB for both Ethernet and WiFi.

Why Ethernet and WiFi, when you talk
of powerline?

Powerline will co-exist with WiFi.
Today, whichever device you take, whether it is a laptop or a PC, it
is either going to be on a Cat 5 connection, ie Ethernet, or WiFi.
Today my customers want a WiFi
connection as well. So, though we send data over powerline, we have
to be compatible with existing systems. So we give powerline in and
WiFi out. So, ultimately you will have a DSL line coming into home or
apartment. However, this DSL cannot be available at every point at
home. Therefore, what we do is put a DSL line and take it on the
powerline. Now that you have put it on the
powerline, you need to convert it to something compatible with PC or
laptop, ie Ethernet or WiFi. So, we have powerline to Ethernet and
powerline to WiFi converters for this. With powerline you can deploy it
in the
existing cable itself in less time. It saves time, copper and money
(our product deployment amount ranges from Rs 2000 to Rs 8000).

So far, there is no much traction
for BPL technology in India. How do you look at this?

The powerline technology did not have a
standard till 2008. There will be more traction in future as we see
an increased level of interest among businesses to try this out. We
have already 28 customers across India, including Prestige Gold
Share, Spar Hypermarket, Gopalan Mall, Total Mall in Bangalore,
Central Power Institute in Hyderabad, two clients in Pune, and one in
Tanzania.

Lots have been written on BPL that
it is a dead technology. What is yout take on this?

Yes, it is called a dead technology in
Australia, the US, and in many other places too. In the US powerline
has always been looked at as an access technology. That means you
have an access point, which is usually a transformer, from where
signals are passed to the end point. Every transformer should have
aggregator box, which will cost close to $10,000. In the US they have
only four or five customers per transformer. That is why the cost per
consumer is very high, at $250. Whereas in Europe or India, we have
close to 120 customers per transformer, so the cost will be
comparatively less.
However, even today Indian
technologists believe that anything that does not work in the US will
not work anywhere else. But this is not the case always. So the
notion that BPL would not work in India is prevalent in India as
well. WiFi works very well in the US conditions, as they have wooden
walls, whereas in India it does not. WiFi is not a technology for
India.

We should have our own technology that
works for us. The Chinese Government has passed a regulation, a year
back, making BPL a de facto technology, for energy meters.

How is the data carried over
powerline or transformers?

Data is carried over a typical 50 Hz or
60 Hz (hertz) cables. Even today there is no technology that can
transfer data through a transformer. Transformer is a DC block, so
one has to bypass the transformer by either laying an Ethernet cable
or WiFi link around the transformer, which makes it even more
expensive for the US conditions.
Moreover, Access BPL is yet to be
ratified. We expect it to be ratified in 2011 and once it is, we
might get into it as well. We are into the in-home BPL space, which
has been ratified in 2009, IEEE P1901 and ITU-T Ghn.

To what extent can the BPL signals
pass through a powerline?

Theoretically 200 meters, assuming that
there will be a lot of load and noise over the line. It can even go
up to 400 to 500 m in ideal conditions.

What is the difference between
Access and in-home BPL?

In-home BPL is something that can be
used within a closed area, such as a campus, home, mall or even a
street (200 m). Whereas, as I said, you have a substation for Access
technology, from where the signal travels to the end user, such as in
WiMAX, or GSM technologies.

How secure are these powerlines?
For an average hacker it will take at
least a year to hack the data. So far, we have seen only 64-bit
encryption in any wireless technology. Although WiFi is now coming
out with 128 bit encryption, we already provide 128-bit encryption,
be it either on AES link encryption or Network Membership Key (NMK).
We have also patents in it.

Does this technology work in all
voltage situations?

We have tested our products for 80 to
300 V and it works. We have also tested them for 7,000 V
successfully. We have both CE and SSE certified products. You can
work it in the US (110 Kb) as well as Indian systems (230 Kb). We
have chipsets close to 15 million nodes.

What is the main challenge that you
see in the market today?

The major challenges are lack of
acceptance and awareness. Businesses are generally not aware of the
existence of powerline technology. Although it has been there since
2009, no one used it. A decade back technologists have discouraged
WiFi, saying it would not survive. However, WiFi is very popular
today. Similarly, people are very averse to this new technology. We
had even gone to the extent of explaining things from the scrap and
today wherever we have deployed our solutions, we seeing a trend of
acceptance.

What is your target for the next
couple of years?

Although we are yet to make our first
million, we are targeting Rs 100 to 150 million business in the next
five to six years. The addressable market is so huge that even if
there are competitors in future, we will have our piece of the cake.

Right now we prefer to be a B2B
company, because being a start-up we will not be able to cater to the
consumer market as of now. Somewhere down the line we might move to
the B2C as well. Today, we rather believe in making India depend on
our intellectual property rather than building on someone else’s IP.

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