The digital era is taking centre stage in India and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is leaving no stone unturned to bring a seamless internet experience to the public. In its latest announcements, TRAI has invited hardware/software providers along with app providers to set up the pilot project of Wi-Fi hotspots.
In its latest release, TRAI has highlighted the fact that public hotspots hold an important place in the delivery of broadband internet services to the users. This also plays an important role in decongestion for telecom operators while the new billion IoT devices come online.
Despite the importance of public hotspots, there are only 31,000 public Wi-Fi hotpots in India as compared to countries like France with 13 million hotspots and the U.S with 10 million hotspots. Interestingly, India consumes more cellular data than China and as much data as U.S.
TRAI suggests that according to the World Bank if there is a 10% increase in internet penetration an increase of 1.4% in the GDP is noticed. The access to internet is data in India, which is still limited due to poor coverage of fiber/telecom and prohibitive pricing of cellular data.
Installing more routers is not the solution according to TRAI as it aims to offer a seamless experience to end users. Even tea stall vendors can be empowered to set up access points if authentication, payment and accounting from hardware and software running on the access point are unbundled. Whereas, device manufacturers, payment companies, ISPs/Telcos and Consumer Internet companies can provide the remaining pieces to set up Public Data Offices (PDOs).
PDOs will be akin to the PCOs that connected all of India, even when tele-density was less than seven telephones per 100 people. It is also suggested that the public Wi-Fi hotspots store community interest data locally, and allow access to it through negligible costs. Overall, these suggestions encourage the PDOs to become bustling centres of economic activity, where consumption of data for the average Indian becomes common.
TRAI’s pilot programme
TRAI has laid out the objectives of the pilot programme clearly. It aims at demonstrating the unbundling of services reducing rework, speeding up development and hence the most effective way to tackle this complex problem. Further, it aims to prove that a multi-provider, inter-operable, collaborative model increases overall innovation in the system, dismantles monopolies and encourages passing of benefits to the end user. It also aims to test the specifications in real-life conditions, suggest improvements and jointly develop a business model that fairly allocates value to each provider. It further wants to fine-tune the technology and finalise the specifications based on the pilot. It will test out integrated payment methods such as coupons (purchased using cash by user or gifted to user), credit/debit cards, net banking, e-wallets, and UPI.
Any Indian entity with a PAN who wishes to provide one PDO or more hotspots can apply. In addition, TRAI invites app providers and hotspot, hardware, software or service providers for the pilot programme. The overall aim is to shape up the ecosystem and ensure the rules are established in a fair and transparent manner encouraging participation from all.
The pilot programme will bring a new generation of users on to the internet in an assisted manner. It also aims to boost the consumption of data for the price-sensitive Indian customer who likes to ration his/her cellular data usage.