New Delhi: The department of telecommunications (DoT) will launch a mobile app on Thursday to enable single-click onboarding of a user through one-time login and authentication to seamlessly access any public WiFi hotspot in the country.

The government believes the app, which will be launched at the India Mobile Congress, will offer users cheaper and faster internet compared to mobile data and also boost the proliferation of public Wi-Fi hotspots in the country in line with the objectives of the national digital communications policy approved by the Union cabinet last month.

This would also enable offloading of mobile data traffic on to Wi-Fi networks, thus easing network congestion in high density areas, potentially bringing down call drops.

“The app has been designed so that users can get on board the public Wi-Fi through one-time authentication and does not have to repeat the entire process for accessing the next Wi-Fi hotspot. The design also ensures back-end interoperability between telecom service providers, which means that if I am a mobile customer of a particular operator, I could seamlessly access Wi-Fi hotspots run by other operators as well," a person in the know said, seeking anonymity.

The government, in the national digital communications policy, has targeted deployment of 5 million public Wi-Fi hotspots by 2020 and 10 million by 2022 through a National Broadband Mission, apart from implementing a “Fibre First Initiative" to take fibre to the home. At present, the country has less than 40,000 such hotspots.

Last week, DoT, through a gazette notification, delicensed the 5GHz band, removing a major hurdle for creating such hotspots by improving the existing capacity of Wi-Fi spectrum.

“No licence shall be required under indoor and outdoor environment to establish, maintain, work, possess or deal in any wireless equipment for the purpose of low power wireless access systems, including radio local area networks operating in the frequency band 5150-5250 MHz; 5250-5350 MHz; 5470-5725 MHz; and 5725-5875 MHz," the government notification said.

These new public Wi-Fi hotspots would ride on BharatNet, earlier called the National Optical Fibre Network, which is the government’s plan to connect 250,000 gram panchayats with rural broadband. The government has already completed laying optical fibre across 100,000 gram panchayats in the first phase and aims to complete the second phase by March 2019 when it will connect an additional 150,000 gram panchayats with the help of private sector participation.

“Private operators are also expected to launch combo offers for users to access data on mobile as well as at the hotspots run by them. They have agreed to cooperate at the backend so that public Wi-Fi kicks off in a big way," a second person aware of the development said requesting anonymity.

On 1 May, the Telecom Commission accepted the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (Trai’s) recommendations on setting up public data offices (PDOs) along the lines of public call offices to boost public Wi-Fi hotspots, which could create employment opportunities by having a new category of service providers through PDO aggregators. These “pay-as-you-go" PDOs will buy data from telecom or internet service providers and resell sachet-sized data packs.

The framework, suggested by the regulator, has prescribed interoperable standards to authenticate the user and payment mechanism to achieve unbundling of operations so that public Wi-Fi hotspots can be provided in a seamless manner, in a grid situation. An entity setting up a Wi-Fi hotspot need not be responsible for its marketing, customer acquisition, payments and settlements.

“Public WiFi is beneficial if it’s affordable. Easy authentication is a step in right direction but capacity and availability of public Wi-Fi is a bigger problem that needs to be addressed," said Mahesh Uppal, director at communications consulting firm ComFirst India.

An email query sent to DoT was unanswered till press time.

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