While there is big bet on the WiFi in the current digital revolution in India to offer internet and broadband to all, the number of such public WiFi hot spots in the country is only 31000, way behind countries like US and France, a TRAI report says.
The regulator which is exploring a ways to deliver last mile broadband connectivity by an affordable method to the people has noted that “Public hotspots hold an important place in the last-mile delivery of broadband to users. It allows for offloading from telecom networks to ease congestion, and will be crucial when the next billion IoT devices come online. Yet, there are only 31,000 public Wi-Fi hotspots in India, compared to 13 million in France, and 10 million in the United States of America. In India, access to data is still limited due to poor coverage of fiber/telecom and prohibitive pricing of cellular data”.
TRAI has further stated that WiFi and LTE are not competing technologies to offer access to 4G mobile experiences rather has held WiFi superior in certain cases.
“Wi-Fi is a complementary, not competing technology to LTE. Wi-Fi is much easier to scale than adding new LTE towers. It bolsters connectivity inside buildings, airports, where LTE penetration is inherently limited. It is not enough to only install more routers”, the regulator said.
Making it a case for proliferating public WiFi hotspots in India, TRAI says it aimed to offer a seamless experience to end users, both residents and international travellers.
As per the way to achieve it, the regulator suggests a pilot. The vision of the pilot initiative is to establish an Open Architecture based Wi-Fi Access Network Interface (WANI). But the regulator sees challenges in this. Difficulties in authentication and payments have been identified as some of the roadblocks in the uptake of public Wi-Fi services from the user's point of view.
“To provide a simplified, consistent experience across hotspots from various providers means unbundling authentication, payment and accounting from hardware and software running on the Access Point. This will allow small entrepreneurs such as tea shops, to set up and maintain Access Points. Whereas, device manufacturers, payment companies, ISPs/Telcos and Consumer Internet companies can provide the remaining pieces to set up Public Data Offices (PDOs)”, said TRAI.
The regulator’s favour to such access points on public WiFi also emerge from the fact that public Wi-Fi Hotspots store community interest data locally, and allow access to it through negligible costs and helps create employment through Public Data Offices (PDOs). Overall, these suggestions encourage the PDOs to become bustling centers of economic activity, where consumption of data for the average Indian becomes common.
TRAI’s stress on the internet for all comes from the fact that the World Bank has observed that a 10% increase in Internet penetration leads to a 1.4% increase in GDP. Access to the Internet is considered a basic human right by many countries globally, including Estonia, Finland and France.