In a bid to increase internet usage and users, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) on Wednesday sought stakeholders’ views on providing data at affordable costs using public Wi-Fi networks, as an independent network or in integration of mobile phone networks.
“The situation of Wi-Fi hotspots is not encouraging in India as we represent one-sixth of the world population whereas our share in Wi-Fi hotspots is less than 1/1000,” Trai said.
According to data from iPass and Maravedis Rethink, India had 31,518 Wi-Fi hotspots in the country, compared to France’s 13 million; United States’ 9.8 million, and 5.6 million hotspots in the United Kingdom. To reach the global benchmark of one Wi-Fi hotspot for 150 people, India needs about 8 lakh new hotspots.
However, more and more consumers prefer to use Wi-Fi networks for browsing the internet, listening to music or to watch videos on their smartphones and tablet computers. Between July 2014 and October 2015, cellular data usage grew 80%, while internet usage on Wi-Fi networks surged 164% during the period, according to Ericsson Mobility Report.
To increase the proliferation of public Wi-Fi spots, the sectoral regulator has sought views on whether there are any regulatory hurdles that are hampering growth of public Wi-Fi, and what needs to be done to address those issues. It also wants to know the measures to be taken to expand the scope of Wi-Fi services in remote and rural areas, and how such networks can be integrated with the cellular networks of telecom operators.
Trai also wants to know whether more bands needed to be opened up for public services, issues in terms of authentication of users, monetisation, including integrating with Unified Payment Interface. The regulator has sought suggestions on whether a hub model could be created to bring down the cost of data and the means by which such services can be hosted by local communities such as panchayat bodies.
The consultation paper comes weeks after Trai floated a paper seeking views for offering free data while at the same time Microsoft lost its opportunity to use TV White Spaces for providing broadband connectivity.
Trai believes public Wi-Fi hotspots are an alternative option to provide low-cost internet services to a large number of people since the equipment needed come at a low cost, in turn bringing down the cost of data.
As per Trai’s calculations, per megabit of internet provided through Wi-Fi could cost R0.02 while consumers are currently paying R0.23 per MB on 2G/3G/4G networks.