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Express Wi-Fi in India: We need Facebook, Google and many more to drive a data revolution

Weren’t you bored of hearing about the yet-to-be-tapped “opportunities” in the data segment while nothing significant ever happened on the ground?

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We all want fast and affordable internet connectivity, don’t we? In a very short span of time, India has grown to become home to one of the biggest mobile phone user base in the world. What started off with basic voice calls and SMS, has now evolved to 4G, VoLTE, WhatsApp, Facebook, Saavn and Netflix – mostly focused on the faster data network. As we continue to evolve from here, consumption of data is certainly going to be higher.

For consumers, all that matters is the overall experience and more specifically, quality of service. This includes factors such as data speeds, availability of higher bandwidth, and most importantly affordability. For service providers, meeting these criteria requires intensive infrastructure investment. This also includes clearing the network of any unnecessary load. Wi-Fi hotspots, for one, is considered as a viable medium to provide faster connectivity while offloading the mobile data network.

As you know how things are in India, Wi-Fi hotspots remained just the next the big thing in conversations at seminars with no significant groundwork happening. But now things have started to change, for good. And you should thank Google and Facebook for that.

Now the concept of Wi-Fi hotspots have existed before. In the telecom space, Airtel and Vodafone have offered 4G services for quite some time. But it needed the likes of Reliance Jio to disrupt the space and make everyone talk about 4G and affordable data. In my opinion, for any technology to go mainstream, it just requires one good product. And most probably you need a big name behind such new technology to create that instant buzz. Google played a pivotal role in doing the same for the Wi-Fi hotspots. ALSO READ: Facebook Express Wi-Fi goes live in India; here’s everything you need to know

Google launched free Wi-Fi services across railway stations in India – in partnership with RailTel. The service is available across over 100 railway stations in India and has set the target of providing at 400 stations by the end of the next year. There have been two immediate impacts of the Google-RailTel partnership. The first is Google showed that there is an actual demand for Wi-Fi across railway stations. Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu told Parliament earlier this year that the number of passengers using the Wi-Fi services at all stations was approximately 50 lakh in the month of February at 115 stations with Wi-Fi service.

“Once we provide WiFi at 400 stations there will be about 300 million Indians who go through the stations and will have access to very high speed WiFi service,” Google had said earlier.

The second impact is the confidence that RailTel has now to expand the service to more people. Last year, the railway minister revealed RailTel is now looking to build a “standalone” platform to provide the internet in far-flung areas of the country.

“We must have rural connectivity. Some villages in far-flung areas need a standalone solution to get digitally connected and Railtel should do that,” Prabhu said.

While the Facebook Express Wi-Fi model is slightly different than Google’s, they’re trying to accomplish the same objective. Just like Google, Facebook is also the facilitator under the Express Wi-Fi project. The idea is to work with local service providers followed by local retailers. During the trial run, Facebook worked with the state-run telecom operator BSNL whereas Airtel was its commercial launch partner. ALSO READ: Google lands its first Wi-Fi deal for Pune smart city mission

Through Express Wi-Fi, users will be able to log onto public Wi-Fi hotspots provided through telecom operators and buy packs sold through local retailers. As many as 20,000 hotspots will be set up across over the next few months.

“India’s population is about 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,” Facebook Asia Pacific Head of Connectivity Solutions Munish Seth commented.

If successful, what’d stop Airtel from expanding its Wi-Fi hotspots at more places with a similar model? Or, what’d stop Facebook to work with other telecom operators to expand Express Wi-Fi project. Whichever way, the success of Express Wi-Fi will only mean more benefit and choices to end consumers. In an ideal situation, we’ll have healthy competition and an ecosystem for this segment.

Needless to point out that India is evolving into a data-hungry market. And mobile data cannot alone satiate this massive demand. With Wi-Fi calling becoming an increasingly popular trend, we will require a more proper setup for relevant infrastructure. Reliance Jio is also reportedly going to launch the FTTH service, which may further disrupt this segment. In the bigger picture, we need the likes of Facebook and Google to get behind such technology innovations that are yet to be fully tapped in the country.

  • Published Date: May 5, 2017 4:22 PM IST