After having to suspend its Free Basics programme as it violated the differential tariff regulation of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), social networking company Facebook is piloting a Wi-Fi hotspot project.
“We are currently in the early stages of testing Express Wi-Fi with multiple local ISP partners in India,” a spokesman for Facebook said in a statement.
Under the pilot, Facebook has tied up with internet service providers across the country to set up Wi-Fi hotspots. Consumers can buy affordable data packages from their local internet service provider to access internet via these hotspots set up in places such as kirana stores. Facebook declined to divulge details on the locations, pilot tests and users for its Express Wi-Fi service.
The project is still in its pilot stages. “ We don’t have an update on a commercial roll out at this point,” Facebook said.
The Express Wi-Fi hotspot project is in line with Trai’s recent consultation paper on increasing public Wi-Fi hotspots to increase the proliferation of high-speed internet by offering data at affordable costs. The regulator believes that 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. According to Trai’s calculations, per megabit of internet provided through Wifi could cost R0.02 while consumers are currently paying R0.23 per MB on 2G/3G/4G networks.
As per the regulator’s consultation paper citing data from iPass and Maravedis Rethink, India had 31,518 Wi-Fi hotspots in the country, compared with France’s 13 million; the US’ 9.8 million, and 5.6 million hotspots in the UK.
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.