New Delhi: The department of telecommunications (DoT) should allow resale of data purchased by an entity from telecom or internet service providers to enable proliferation of public Wi-Fi hotspots in the country, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) chairman R.S. Sharma said on Thursday.

“Pilot scale-up will happen once the policy that data resale can be done is approved (by DoT)... then there will be many players in the ecosystem... this will transform the availability of public Wi-Fi hotspots... you have to create enabling conditions and reference architecture for things to happen...ultimately DoT is the policymaker," he told reporters after presenting a report to telecom minister Manoj Sinha on the results of the pilot project conducted by Trai to test public wifi hotspots in the country.

Eight entities were part of the pilot project and had set up access points at various locations in the country. Even Facebook through its rural broadband partner AirJaldi Networks Pvt. Ltd participated in the pilot. AirJaldi deployed two of its access points in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh and one in its branch office in Delhi.

DoT had accorded permission for resale of data by “public data offices" (PDOs) for the purpose of conducting the pilot project.

Mint had on 15 March reported that Trai aims to develop a framework similar to the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) to aid the roll out of public wifi hotspots in the country and will send a report to DoT by March end, based on the results of its pilot projects.

A report submitted by Trai on Thursday could serve as a reckoner for DoT, which has separately set an ambitious target of deploying 500,000 wifi hot spots by December across the country from the current 38,000.

The framework, suggested by the regulator, has prescribed interoperable standards to authenticate the user and payment mechanism to achieve unbundling of operations so that wifi hotspots can be provided in a seamless manner, in a grid situation.

“This will be like UPI for Wi-Fi...interestingly the architects for Aadhaar and UPI are the architects of this (WiFi hostpot) framework as well," Sharma said on Thursday.

Launched in 2016, UPI is a system that powers multiple bank accounts into a single mobile app (of any participating bank), merging several banking features, seamless fund routing and merchant payments.

Trai had initiated discussions on wifi hotspots in July 2016 when it first floated a consultation paper on “Proliferation of Broadband Through Public Wi-Fi Networks", to invite public comments, based on which Trai sent recommendations to DoT in March 2017. It had at that time recommended a new framework to set up PDOs, similar to public call offices (PCOs), for providing public wifi hotspots. These “pay-as-you-go" PDOs will buy data from telecom or internet service providers and resell sachet-sized data packs starting at Rs2.

PDO aggregators should also be allowed to enter into agreements with third-party service providers for the purpose of managing authentication and payment processes, Trai had suggested.

In July last year, Trai issued a draft design of public wifi network project under which any entity with a valid permanent account number (PAN) would be allowed to set up PDOs. It had also invited firms, app providers and hardware or software providers to set up a pilot project for this purpose.

The draft design also provided detailed technology specifications for compliance by various providers to ensure full Wi-Fi access network interface (WANI) system interoperability.

As part of its report, Trai has urged DoT to consider approval of its recommendations sent in March which include creation of a registration framework for PDO/ PDO aggregators.

The regulator has also suggested that an app testing and certification framework will have to be created which will focus on testing KYC guidelines, interoperability and security of mobile apps. This will involve evaluation and appointing external agencies who can partner in the certification process.

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