There is one Wi-Fi hotspot for every 150 people globally, as per a report by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). In order to catch up with the global number and create new market opportunities for infrastructure providers and Internet service providers, India must install eight million additional hotspots. Currently, there are only 52,000 Wi-Fi hotspots in the country. This calls for a proactive strategy to provide high-speed Wi-Fi hotspots across the country.
At the Indian Mobile Congress 2018, the Ministry of Communications announced the rolling out of one million Wi-Fi hotspots by the Indian telecom industry by December 2019, under the Bharat Wi-Fi initiative. The initiative has been jointly proposed by all telecom companies, internet service providers and virtual network operators who will work together to offer Wi-Fi through public hotspots via roaming agreements. Bharat Wi-Fi is a country-wide common inter-operable platform for these million hotspots, owned and operated by telecom service providers, Internet service providers and virtual network operators.
Smart Cities Mission
The Smart Cities Mission aims to accelerate the digital transformation of the country. The provision of free Wi-Fi services is an important objective of this mission. In fact, cities such as Ahmedabad, Bhubaneswar, Pune and Vadodara have undertaken initiatives to set up free Wi-Fi hotspots for the public. Pune Smart City Development Corporation Limited (PSCDCL) launched 150 Wi-Fi hotspots across the city in January 2018. The company, in collaboration with Google, Larsen & Toubro and RailTel, provides Wi-Fi services across select hospitals, gardens, police stations, government offices and bus stops. The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation has provided unlimited data at 2 megabits per second at 159 locations in the city. The Bhubaneswar Development Authority and Bhubaneswar Smart City Limited have installed Wi-Fi hotspots at the OMC, Robot and Triangular parks. Vadodara has launched a first-of-its-kind project in the country to install Wi-Fi hotspots and intelligent poles. The Gurugram Metropolitan Authority plans to install Wi-Fi hotspots at 1,000 locations across the city, covering public spaces, court complex, parks and bus shelters. While the Smart Cities Mission has come a long way in providing infrastructure to encourage the adoption of digital technologies across the country, a lot needs to done, as some states are still in the planning stage even after four years of its launch.
Case Study: The City Wi-Fi Project in Ranchi
Telecom major BSNL has integrated Ranchi’s ambitious city Wi-Fi project with its mobile data offloading (MDO) service in order to provide free Wi-Fi services across the city. An agreement to this effect was signed between the state IT and e-governance department and BSNL. Under the project, citizens will get free access to Wi-Fi for half an hour every day, post which they will have to recharge online to continue the service. The recharge amount will vary between Rs 9 and Rs 69, providing data between 1 gigabyte (GB) per day and 30 GB for 30 days. They will have to login to a specified webpage, which will be unveiled by BSNL before the launch of the project, in order to avail of the free Wi-Fi service. BSNL has hired Go IP Global Services, a private agency, to conduct a survey of the areas where the city Wi-Fi project will be implemented. The landmarks for setting up the hotspots have been identified keeping in mind the footfall and utility. These include Sadar Hospital, State Guest House, A and B blocks of the Collectorate Building, registry office, Government Bus Stand (Birsa Chowk), RIMS Campus, Birsa Munda Bus Terminus, Ranchi Municipal Corporation office, SSP Ranchi residence and Hatia Guest House. Under the first phase of the city Wi-Fi project, Ranchi will have 10 free Wi-Fi zones by November 2019. Similar Wi-Fi projects will be launched in other cities of Jharkhand such as Jamshedpur, Bokaro, Dhanbad, Deoghar, Palamau and Gumla.
The way forward
India represents one sixth of the world population and yet its share in the Wi-Fi hotspot space is less than 1/1000. The recent collaboration of US-based networking giant Cisco with Google for its gStation service will go a long way in providing access to free and high-speed Wi-Fi at public places across India. Solving for access is one of the core pillars of Google’s Next Billion Users strategy, and with gStation, it has developed a best-in-class public Wi-Fi solution that provides a seamless, high-quality broadband experience to users. Google Station is currently at about 1,000 locations in India and has over eight million monthly active users. These locations include 400 railway stations (in partnership with RailTel). Apart from India, Google has taken the gStation model to other countries such as Indonesia, Nigeria, Thailand and Mexico. The partnership of Cisco and Google presents a significant growth opportunity for the entire telecom industry in India, as the demand for public Wi-Fi hotspots is expected to go up by 100 times over the next three years. The proliferation of public Wi-Fi can provide a significant boost to the government’s digital ambitions of ubiquitous connectivity and digital inclusion, and serve as a complementary network for telecom companies.