BMC’s Wi-Fi Plans In Trouble
BMC (Mumbai’s municipal corporation) has been planning to make a city wide open Wi-Fi network available for some time now. The project, if implemented, would put Mumbai at par with cities like Houston and Philadelphia, which have city-wide wireless networks. The plan would not only allow users to connect to the Internet wirelessly for basic services, it would also enable better e-governance and e-commerce. Moreover, the Wi-Fi infrastructure would be used to monitor streetlights, electricity stations and water meters, saving a lot of cabling and adding considerably to the city’s carbon credits.
However, this gracious plan on the side of the BMC, has been put on the tenterhooks by the uneasiness of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). TRAI started looking into the security if the Wi-Fi networks after the terror e-mails post the Ahmedabad blasts — so did everybody. The TRAI considered implementing laws that banned all kinds of open Wi-Fi networks. BMC however defended their plans by saying that authentication, monitoring and logging of all users would prevent abuse of the networks. The BMC plans to implement the Wi-Fi infrastructure with intrusion detectors, and protection of user accounts from being hacked. If the project is implemented, there will be an independent cell like the cyber crime unit to police all activity on the Wi-Fi network.
However there will always be people who abuse the existing infrastructure. The TRAI is not worried only about BMC’s plans, there are many free Wi-Fi zones already in the city, and it is possible to drive down the road and detect unsecured Wi-Fi zones from many places. People who use Wi-Fi at home don’t take the trouble to secure it for the most part. Stalling the implementation of a clearly useful plan just because of possible terrorist activity, will stop in its tracks all the benefits of such a network.
Security is not the only issue the BMC is grappling with. There are a number of implementations problems as well, the city covers an area of more than 470 sq kilometres. Setting up a Wi-Fi zone across the entire city, monitoring each and every user account, and keeping the setup running would be a big problem. There are also subscription problems, the methods by which the BMC will bear the cost of the service for example. There are also questions about freeloaders. Controlling the use of such a large network is quite a problem.