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Wi-Fi Holds The Key To Inclusivity And Reach For Education And Healthcare In Rural India

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Wi-Fi Holds The Key To Inclusivity And Reach For Education And Healthcare In Rural India

— Mahesh Moorthy, vice president, engineering, Qualcomm India
The vision of a “Digital India” is based on inclusive and equitable socioeconomic development of both the urban and the rural populace. The pandemic has underlined the need for reliable, nationwide wireless infrastructure for enabling uninterrupted functioning and delivery of essential services, especially for the economically weaker and vulnerable segments of the population. Wi-Fi and 5G will be crucial building blocks of India’s rural economy, improving the reach and quality of education and healthcare – two crucial pillars of development.
With its low cost of deployment, maintenance, and scaling, Wi-Fi is perfect for on-premise connectivity needs, supporting large-scale use cases in campus that require reliable, low-latency connectivity with a reliable backhaul using 5G cellular networks. In healthcare, Wi-Fi can virtually connect healthcare workers and patients within the same campus, using 5G cellular as a backhaul to connect them across geographies even if they are in different locations. In education, Wi-Fi can be used in classrooms to access immersive audiovisual content and scale to large number of students seamlessly with OFDMA (orthogonal frequency-division multiple access) like technologies that provide fast, reliable, low latency transmission of information across multiple client devices simultaneously. We will witness great interplay between Wi-Fi and 5G once the latter is commercially launched in India.

In most parts of urban India, Wi-Fi has already become a near-indispensable feature of both homes and offices. The need of secure, uninterrupted, high-speed Wi-Fi in offices is obvious. Recent years have seen this need extend to homes too, owing to a marked increase in the number of bandwidth-intensive and often simultaneously used applications such as streaming, gaming, work, studies, as well as smart assistants and smart wearables. Wi-Fi offers not only the bandwidth and speed to meet these varying needs but also the ability to prioritize certain kinds of usages and devices over others.

The urban situation, however, is one half of the picture. On the other side is rural India, where Wi-Fi is not yet as widely used. There is huge untapped potential for using Wi-Fi to improve livelihoods and deliver essential services such as education and healthcare. In cities, we have grown used to children attending classes and accessing study material online. It has also become common to have video consultations with doctors. There are hundreds of millions of Indians, though, who do not yet have such options.

Bridging the quality and delivery gaps between rural and urban healthcare services.
Many rural regions in India lack quality healthcare services, even at the primary healthcare level. The doctor-patient ratio there is generally low, and healthcare infrastructure is poor. People often have to travel to nearby cities for high-quality care. For India to realize its goal of universal health coverage, it is necessary to address issues pertaining to accessibility, affordability, and quality. Wi-Fi can help in bridging urban-rural gaps in accessibility, affordability, and quality of healthcare services.

While the urban markets are, by now, accustomed to teleconsultations, Wi-Fi will extend this facility to the rural masses. Wi-Fi-enabled telehealth services can yield several, significant benefits – emergency care can be availed in quick time; ICUs can monitor critically ill patients round the clock; chronic care management become easier; and long-term specialized care can be provided at much lower costs. We could even have Wi-Fi-equipped medical kiosks that facilitate doctor consultations, medicine delivery, diagnostics, and veterinary care.

Telehealth cannot entirely replace physical medical interventions, but it can certainly help in addressing issues such as fragmented care, long wait times, limited resources and access to medical specialists.
Ensuring that education is continuing and contemporary.

Although the pandemic set the stage for digital learning across the country, internet connectivity continues to be a problem in rural areas, hindering classroom learning. Wi-Fi is a viable solution to meet the connectivity needs of both students and teachers in such regions. It can be one of the building blocks for economical and reliable tech infrastructure in rural areas, enabling the delivery of quality education services even in the absence of traditional methods of teaching. The fact that Wi-Fi enables multiple connections from the same location is very useful in a wide-scale activity such as education.

In the coming years, we could well see the introduction of some new models of teaching and learning. These include Satellite Teaching Centres, which use video conferencing, webinars, and other digital aids; Special Coaching Centres, which have technology-aided learning modules and can be used for digital skill-building; and Smart Classrooms, where Wi-Fi allows the inclusion of visual aids, immersive content, digital blackboards, e-books, and collaborative workbooks into the curriculum. Once established, they can ensure continuity of education across government and private schools.

Looking ahead to a future powered by Wi-Fi 7 and 5G.
While the existing Wi-Fi infrastructure in the country has been instrumental in bringing about some significant developmental changes already, Wi-Fi 7, the latest version of the technology, will expand the reach of wireless connectivity to every corner of the country. Touted as a generational leap for wireless data networks, Wi-Fi 7 is a huge improvement over Wi-Fi 6 and 6E, with a multifold increase in speed, lower latency, and the capacity to support an even larger number of wireless devices.

In the years ahead, Wi-Fi 7, in conjunction with 5G, will support an extremely wide range of use cases and drive innovation and growth across all industries, sectors, and spheres of human activity. More importantly, they will help us wirelessly connect those who are yet unconnected. 5G based Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) gateways and FWA Mesh networks can become enablers for this, where fiber or copper cannot reach.

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