India sets ambitious target to deploy 1.5 million new public Wi-Fi hotspots

Wi-Fi hotspots PM WANI India
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India has set an ambitious target to increase Wi-Fi penetration in the country by next year dramatically. The country’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is now targeting a four-fold increase in public Wi-Fi access points to 2 million by the end of 2021 up from current 500,000 Wi-Fi hotspots with the help of the recently launched public Wi-Fi project, Prime Minister Wi-Fi Access Network Interface, also known as PM WANI.

Anshu Prakash, India’s telecommunications secretary said that the government is currently working on a plan to make Wi-Fi equipment available at around half the market price. The DoT’s technology development centre, C-DoT, has developed these affordable Wi-Fi access points for mass deployment.

The DoT has also roped in state-run telecom equipment maker, ITI, for the roll-out of the Wi-Fi project.

“All our efforts are centred on making the PM WANI project live and vibrant very swiftly. All our units including C-DoT and ITI have been roped in for their expertise. DoT has started an instant messaging group with close to 70 stakeholders from the ecosystem including ISPs and ICT manufacturers that have tied up with it for the pilot project…the idea is to interact with them and to iron out any issues,” Prakash was quoted as saying by the Economic Times.

The report said that the Department of Telecommunications has also formed five working groups with industry representation to minimise hiccups in rolling out the latest project.

Under the country’s National Digital Communications Policy, 2018, India had set the target to install 10 million Wi-Fi hotspots by 2022.

Prakash told the publication that registrations for applying to offer Wi-Fi service under the new PM WANI scheme will open by the first week of January. “We are facilitating meetings between PM WANI stakeholders and various telcos and ISPs to start this process,” he said.

India will not charge any license fee for providing broadband internet services using public Wi-Fi Hotspots. The proposed categories of PDOs won’t need a licence, and also won’t have to pay any entry fee or go through a registration process.

Any entity whether grocery stores, restaurants, or tea stalls can obtain bandwidth from telecom operators or internet service providers to open a public Wi-Fi network under the PM WANI project, as per latest guidelines issued by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).

“The backhaul requirement for these Wi-Fi access points will be met by procuring internet bandwidth from the telecom service providers/internet service providers,” DoT said in a notification.

A senior government official separately told Mint newspaper that any entity having physical space can become a PDO (Wi-Fi hotspot). “Google and Facebook do not have a physical presence. They can finance setting up this Wi-Fi (hotspots) but the business model has to be sustainable. They can instead become an aggregator but the FDI (foreign direct investment) rules have to be complied with,” he was quoted as saying by the publication.

Under the project, the Public Data Office (PDO) will establish, maintain, and operate only WANI compliant Wi-Fi Access Points and deliver broadband services. Public Data Office Aggregator (PDOA) will perform the functions relating to authorization and accounting, while app providers will develop applications to register users and discover WANI compliant Wi-Fi hotspots in the nearby area and display the same within the App for accessing the internet service.

Prakash said that C-DoT has developed a platform to provide services to service aggregators or  Public Data Office Aggregators (PDOA) for applications such as authorisation, authentication, accounting, voucher management and linking to payment gateways.

“Any PDOA can take services from the government’s technology development centre. We have done this to reduce the CAPEX for PDOAs,” he said.

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