One year after Facebook had to pull out the infamous ‘Free Basics’ programme, it is ready to roll out its ‘Express Wi-Fi’ service in the country. It is basically a service which offers internet facility through public hotspots to users in rural parts of India. However, both the services are different because, while Free Basics was providing its services for free, Express Wi-Fi works on a ‘paid’ model and the access will not be restricted to any specific websites. Facebook, with its commercial rollout of its Express Wi-fi project, promises a ‘fast, reliable and affordable’ Internet to those who are not connected. Network provider Airtel has come in as the fifth partner to offer more than 20,000 hotspots across India, PTI reported. Express Wi-Fi is currently live in country’s Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria and Indonesia as well.
Munish Seth, Head of Connectivity Solutions, Facebook Asia Pacific, told PTI that India’s population is around 1.3 billion people, but only 390 million are connected to the Internet. Express Wi-Fi is part of our global initiative and we want to expand Internet connectivity to underserved locations. According to an IE report, Seth had informed that the project has been in a pilot mode since 2015 and has three Internet service provider partners who offer 700 hotspots across states like Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Meghalaya through 500 local entrepreneurs. Seth said the model will not be subsidised in any way and will be rolled out primarily in market and community areas.
Facebook has said that the services are priced by the Internet service providers, who will also recruit the entrepreneurs while the company will provide the software and network architecture along with analytics, according to the IE report. Meanwhile, according to reports, the ISPs for WiFi hotspots are AirJaldi in Uttarakhand, LMES in Rajasthan, Tikona in Gujarat, and roll out in Meghalaya is being carried out by a company called Shaildhar.
The number of people using the internet in India has seen a significant rise in the last few years, mainly because of newer cheap smartphones and competitive data prices triggered by Reliance Jio. Even tech giant Google had rolled out free Internet access through public wi-fi hotspots at various railway stations in partnership with RailTel.
Ajai Puri, Chief Operating Officer (India & South Asia), Bharti Airtel told IE that the company was happy to be a part of Facebook’s initiative to provide affordable access to high-speed data to users across India, particularly in the underserved areas. The Airtel rollout will take a few months, he informed.