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Wi-Fi hotspot envelopes – Internet from a envelope

Deployed via PMWANI, it can be a game changer in digital connectivity.

Digital India, PM WANI, Digital India Insight, Digital Connectivity, Digital Empowerment, Digital Literacy, Digital Connectivity, Connectivity Landscape, TRAI, RailTel, GAIL, High Speed ​​Internet, Internet Prices, Indian Express, Indian Express NewsThis system can deliver community content without using bandwidth. The idea was successfully trialled and submitted to the Department of Telecommunications (DOT) as the Wi-Fi Access Network Interface, or WANI, in March 2017. (Express File Photo)

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The Digital India program has three main vision areas: Digital Connectivity, On Demand Software and Services, and Digital Citizen Empowerment. Digital connectivity is a sine qua non for all things digital in today’s world. Fortunately, the connectivity landscape has been transformed over the past seven years due to multiple factors such as the mobile phone boom (over a billion mobile connections), 4G coverage, a significant reduction in tariffs (from Rs 300 per GB to just Rs 7 per GB), and increased smartphone penetration.

Enabling policies such as net neutrality and the country’s focus on building public digital infrastructure (IPD), especially digital IDs and UPIs, have further contributed to the increase in cross-domain digital transactions. However, this growth has been accompanied by a huge increase in the demand for data. Video is now the leading means of data consumption. India’s per capita data consumption is as high as 19.5 GB per month, and the total volume of data carried by India’s mobile networks is higher than the mobile networks of the United States and China combined.

This means that even a child today requires five to six gigabytes of data for online classes and other educational requirements. Thus, the gap between affordable supply and demand remains large, especially for poor households and rural India. How do you deal with this situation?

Establishing interoperable public Wi-Fi hotspots was one such idea proposed by the Telecom Regulator of India (TRAI) in 2017. Similar in concept to PCOs of the past, it proposed to create millions of interoperable Wi-Fi hotspots, Public Data Offices (PDOs), for distributing last mile broadband to ordinary people in bundles of Rs 5 to 10. This system can deliver community content without using bandwidth. The idea was successfully piloted and submitted to the Department of Telecommunications (DOT) as the Wi-Fi Access Network Interface, or WANI, in March 2017.

As usual, there was opposition to the idea and the Cellular Operators Association (COAI) promised the government that there was no need for WANI and that they will create one million hotspots within a year. Nothing has been done.

It took three years for the DOT to approach the Union cabinet and the same was approved in December of 2020 as PM-WANI. The Cabinet approval was truly transformative. No license or permit was needed for operators to start operations. Several start-ups that had participated in the initial pilot have started work. Then Covid-19 hit and work came to an abrupt halt. Now the operators, the PDO Aggregators (PDOA), have resumed work.

One of the arguments against PM-WANI is that data is now so cheap and everyone has 4G connectivity that there are no commercial arguments for Wi-Fi hotspots. This, as we have seen, is an oversimplification.

A very positive wind has begun to blow, albeit on a very small scale and in some isolated pockets of the country. In the last year alone, more than 1.5 lakh Wi-Fi hotspots have been set up by PDOAs and more than a million people get unlimited internet every day by paying just Rs 5 to 10. Students buy this internet sachet instead of a packet of crisps or soft drinks from their pocket money.

By introducing various entities such as PDOs, PDOAs, App Vendors and a central registry, a truly open and scalable framework has been created. As UPI has transformed the financial space in India, something similar has started to happen in the internet connectivity space. PM WANI is poised to become a single digital public infrastructure.

This framework offers an interesting business opportunity for aggregators as it allows unbundling of last mile Internet distribution, eliminating the need for additional licensing fees. This proposition is particularly exciting as it provides a solid foundation for providing affordable Internet access to a significant part of society. Currently, domestic broadband penetration in India is one of the lowest in the world, hovering around 10%. PM-WANI presents a golden opportunity to accelerate unlimited high-speed Internet penetration, bridging the digital divide and empowering communities.

PM-WANI can also fuel the growth of local nano-entrepreneurs across the country. These last mile providers (PDOs) can be found in small shops, local establishments and even households. They establish Wi-Fi hotspots and offer Internet access to other users, allowing them to increase their monthly income while promoting Internet usage through affordable sachet plans.
The flexibility of this framework allows aggregators (PDOA) to exploit the Internet distribution space, without the burden of additional licensing costs. Their primary role involves providing authorization and accounting services to PDOs, ensuring a seamless and secure user experience.

While infrastructure built by large companies such as RailTel and GAIL already exists, it is currently underused. Additionally, many large Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are hesitant to enter underserved areas. This situation presents a golden opportunity for the PM-WANI framework to flourish. Offering an affordable and reliable solution, it serves as a beacon of hope for people in underserved areas. Internet service providers (ISPs) and telecom companies also benefit as they end up selling more bandwidth by turning their end customers into resellers.

PM-WANI must be promoted by all concerned governments, civil society and startups. This public digital infrastructure (DPI) is uniquely Indian in its approach to interoperability, openness and scalability. Hopefully it will speed up like UPI or other DPI.

The writer is the former president of TRAI. Views are personal

The Indian Express (P) Ltd

First published on: 07-25-2023 at 07:10 CEST



#WiFi #hotspot #envelopes #Internet #envelope
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