Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is mooting a public Wi-Fi system in the country to disseminate low-cost Internet via small PCO-like booths called PDO, short for Public Data Office. Much like PCO that was immensely popular in the 80s and 90s in India and allowed renting voice calls, the PDO will be deployed across the country to sell data vouchers to everyone, thereby slashing the cost of Internet almost by 90 per cent while simulataneously boosting broadband penetration in India.
TRAI had earlier submitted its recommendation on the project to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), which has now greenlighted the resale of the Internet vouchers from PDO booths, TRAI Chairman R S Sharma said in a statement. The rerouting of Internet from the service provider can only be possible with a permit from the regulator for data resale by PDO booth managers. The proposal of data resale had been gathering dust for long until DoT actively contemplated the possibility of slashing the Internet cost in the country by making it publicly available at more than the existing spots. The DoT approved the proposal on May 1.
The Public Data Office or PDO will work under aggregators called Public Data Office Aggregators (PDOA). A single PDOA will connect with several PDO to offer Internet for resale via vouchers. Consider this similar to Ola and Uber that work as aggregators for all cabs in a city and allow customers to book one via their respective booking platforms. The users will be required to authenticate their mobile number once at a PDO and they can access Internet pan-India without having to verify their number again. The locations that are facilitated with broadband connectivity can be suitable for opening PDO at a cost of as low as Rs 1,200 for a router. The spots with sketchy electricity supply can install solar power equipment to provide solar electricity to the PDO booth.
The PDO booths will be opened at all the locations that have at least some kind of broadband connectivity by any service provider. With the help of the PDO infrastructure, TRAI hopes to deploy as many as 1 crore public Wi-Fi hotspots in India. Sharma further added that new guidelines will now be formulated to roll out the PDOs across the country effectively. TRAI is also mulling to install PDOs at major Common Service Centres (CSC) in the country. Not only is this likely to give a boost to employment, but will also proliferate broadband reach in India.
TRAI previously piloted a few PDO booths at select spots in the country to check the feasibility, which returned positive results. Some of the major service providers that participated in the pilot project were Facebook that partnered a rural broadband service provider AirJaldi Networks, WiFi Dabba, Omnia Information, and Febler Technologies among others.
AirJaldi Networks that provided affordable Internet at many spots in India via Facebook’s Express Wi-Fi, which is now live at more than 700 locations across the states of Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Meghalaya. The Internet vouchers cost between Rs 10 – Rs 20 for 0.1GB data per day to Rs 200 – Rs 300 for up to 20GB data per day. The vouchers are available from local grocery and tea shops – a format of brick and mortar stores.