The Indian cabinet has agreed to an ambitious public Wi-Fi plan that could bring broadband data connectivity to anywhere in the country – even places that at present have no mobile coverage.
The proposal, which aims to boost national broadband penetration, suggests bringing public Wi-Fi to Indian citizens everywhere through licensed outlets that buy bandwidth from aggregators and sell it on to customers.
This business model means public data offices (PDOs) – essentially small entrepreneurs – will work with public data office aggregators or PDOAs. The PDOAs will sell on the bandwidth to PDOs to deliver public Wi-Fi services. App providers will also play a part. No licences will be involved.
While bringing connectivity to unconnected areas may be welcome, it won’t be free. Pricing of such services, the government has indicated, will be left to market forces. In addition, some areas with good mobile coverage may not show much interest in public Wi-Fi as mobile data is very cheap, at least for now.
According to Indian press reports, the public Wi-Fi idea was first proposed in March 2017, when the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) recommended the model through which PDOAs worked with PDOs to deliver public Wi-Fi services without a licence
Nothing much has happened until now and the question of whether there is a business case for public Wi-Fi Is still unresolved. That said, data demand will undoubtedly continue to rise, a factor that may encourage proponents of the scheme.
Indian media outlets estimate the current count of Wi-Fi hotspots across the country at about 100,000. The country’s National Digital Communications Policy 2018 set targets of 5 million by 2020 and 10 million by 2022.