Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to announce the networking of 500,000 public Wi-Fi hotspots across India’s cities and villages, two people familiar with the matter said, so users can sign up with one hotspot operator and connect to hotspots of any other operator while on the move, similar to mobile roaming.
The project is expected to boost digital connectivity, shift a big chunk of internet traffic from mobile networks to cheaper and faster Wi-Fi networks, ease network congestion and potentially bring down call drops.
“In the first phase, 500,000 hotspots will be brought under this architecture immediately and these will be inter-operable across various telecom operators, internet service providers, mobile virtual network operators and common service centres. Users can be on-boarded through a single click," said the first of the two people, both of whom spoke under condition of anonymity.
Inter-operability essentially means a mobile subscriber of Airtel can use a Wi-Fi hotspot run by Jio or any other service provider after buying a sachet-size internet voucher and opting for a one-time authentication at the Wi-Fi access point. These data sachets would work across the country but the bill would be payable to the subscriber’s own service provider. At the back-end, the service providers will settle the revenue to be share based on the data used at the hotspot.
“The PM may announce this on the oath-taking day itself. The intention is to increase the number to one million hotspots by the end of 12 months from the date of announcement of roll-out," the second person said.
Users who cannot afford monthly internet recharge packs but want to use small amounts of data for short periods will also benefit from this plan. It is also expected to create jobs as these public data offices (PDOs), similar to public call offices (PCOs), would buy bulk bandwidth from telecom service providers (TSPs) or internet service providers and resell data packs. In fact, the national digital communications policy, which was approved by the Cabinet in September, has aimed to deploy 5 million public Wi-Fi hotspots by 2020 and 10 million by 2022 through a National Broadband Mission.
Globally, Wi-Fi has become central for internet access as it can be deployed at relatively low costs. The cost per megabyte of deploying Wi-Fi access infrastructure is substantially lower than for 3G or 4G mobile broadband networks.
In April 2018, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India had submitted a report to the department of telecommunications suggesting an architecture for these hotspots, which the Telecom Commission, the highest decision making authority at the department of telecommunications, accepted in May.
The COAI since then has been working with various government agencies to put in place a framework which would be security-proof and robust.