New Delhi: Facebook is tying up with entrepreneurs to set up Wi-Fi hotspots in public places across the country, in an attempt to end India’s poor connectivity problem.

Called Express Wi-Fi, the programme will see Facebook helping entrepreneurs set up public Wi-Fi hotspots to provide Internet connectivity to people in poor or zero connectivity areas.

“We are working with ISPs and operator partners to test Express Wi-Fi with public Wi-Fi deployments in multiple pilot sites," said Munish Seth, head of connectivity solutions for Asia Pacific at Facebook, adding that now customers will be able to purchase fast, reliable and affordable data packs in four states—Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Meghalaya—across 700 hotspots and 500 retailers.

Express Wi-Fi will be rolled out in partnership with ISPs AirJaldi in Uttarakhand, LMES in Rajasthan, Tikona in Gujarat, and Shaildhar in Meghalaya.

Seth said that Facebook was working with Airtel to install 20,000 more hotspots across the country.

Express Wi-Fi is already live in Indonesia, Tanzania, Kenya and Nigeria.

Explaining how Express Wi-Fi works, Seth said that Facebook will provide the software stack to the entrepreneurs, data analytics and in some cases funds to help start operations. The entrepreneur can choose any Internet service provider (ISP) to provide the Wi-Fi connectivity to the hotspot.

“We will recommend ISPs based on our tests and usually the speed of the Wi-Fi has to be somewhat around 10mbps," Seth said, adding, that if someone wants to use the Wi-Fi, they will have to buy a data card and use it on their devices.

“Anyone can access the Express Wi-Fi network by signing up with an Express Wi-Fi retailer and purchasing a daily, weekly or monthly data pack at a rate set by our partners. They will then be able to connect to the Express Wi-Fi hotspot, register/create an account, log in and start browsing or use any app," Seth explained.

He said that “this will kill the need for owning 4G devices and that will be immensely helpful for India where 4G is catching up fast but has a long way to go before it becomes mainstream."

However, Seth didn’t clarify how Facebook would generate revenue but said that the company was providing the software stack and analytics free of cost to entrepreneurs.

“It is similar to the cybercafe model that thrived around a decade back," said Sanchit Vir Gogia, chief analyst at Greyhound Research.

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