The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved the setting up of free public WiFi networks across the country. The WiFi will be provided through Public Data Offices (PDOs) and there will be no registration or any kind of fees required to take advantage of the wifi. Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also said that the public WiFi was being rolled out as part of the Prime Minister WiFi Access Network Interface (PM- WANI).
The PM Wani project was originally recommended by TRAI back in 2017. “Covid pandemic has necessitated delivery of stable and high-speed broadband data services to an increasingly large number of subscribers, including in areas which do not have 4G mobile coverage. This can be achieved by deployment of public WiFi,” according to a government release.
There will be PDO Aggregators who will look after the authorisation and accounting of the PDOs. Third-party app providers will develop an app to register users and discover WANI compliant Wi-Fi hotspots in the nearby area and display the same within the app for those people to connect to the internet service.
Google’s Free WiFi
India’s free wifi journey began in 2015 when Google partnered up with Indian Railways and RailTel to start the ‘Station’ program through which Google had to provide free wifi to over 400 of the busiest railway stations in India.
The company crossed the 400 mark in 2018 and continued to install free wifi across more Railway stations. The program was winded up in February this year as Google said the Mobile data plans are now cheap enough and people don’t require the free WiFi service anymore.
However, RealTel conveyed that people can continue using freeWiFi service through them on the railway stations. The program was winded up before the contract between Google and RealTel expired, which was in May 2020.
RailTel is still providing free WiFi at over 5,600 stations across the country and will continue to do so.
Facebook also joined the pact to reduce the Internet connectivity issues in India when it introduced Facebook Express WiFi three years back. The program was officially launched after 18 months of testing.
Facebook’s attempt was not exactly free but was pretty cheap for what it offered. Facebook partnered with 500 local entrepreneurs who used to sell these services through vouchers that were priced ranging ₹10-20 for a day or ₹200-300 for a month. After buying the voucher, a user could take advantage of the service wherever it was available.
Facebook still runs the service across India. Its main aim was to provide more affordable internet services to rural and urban areas.
To conclude, yes there are free wifi services available in India and the PM Wani project is a great step in the right direction but the Mobile data recharge getting cheaper day by day does have a major impact on the number of users who tend to join the programs. We still have to see whether the PM Wani project will be a hit or a miss despite the fact that it is a great initiative by the government.