By Salman SH and Nikhil Pahwa
“There could be small entrepreneurs or even a very small entity which would like to participate in common and shared WiFi network for larger public use”, the TRAI has mused in its consultation paper on Public WiFi networks(pdf). The phrase “public WiFi networks” has broader meaning, and is not limited to the WiFi hotspot created by licensed TSP/ISP at public places, it says, and with the rollout of the BharatNet project, “The next logical step would be for Panchayats and local entrepreneurs to utilise this Internet access to create WiFi networks offering e-learning, e-governance, ebanking, e-health and other online services to the community.”
The questions posed in the consultation paper are below, and the submissions have to be sent to email@example.com by the 10th of August, 2016. Counter comments will be allowed till 24th of August, 2016.
The State of WiFi in India
India has only 31,518 public WiFi hotspots, as compared to over 47 million globally, and the TRAI believes that to have one hotspot for every 150 people, we need 800,000 hotspots.
India’s performance, though, has been abysmal: “Globally the increase in number of Wi-Fi hotspots from 2013 to 2016 has been 568% whereas India has an increase of 12% only. It acknowledges community WiFi projects by AirJaldi, Digital Empowerment Foundation and Village Telco.
Based on discussions with stakeholders, the TRAI has estimated that the cost of WiFi (20 hotspots for a tier 2 city with around 40,000 subscribers and 10,000 concurrent users) would be less than Rs 0.02, as opposed to Rs 0.23 for cellular networks (2G/3G/4G).
Payment interface for public WiFi
The regulator said that creating a central platform for payments across different WiFi networks and introducing pay-as-you method for users could attract more consumers into using public WiFi services provided by both telcos and other entities.
In addition, TRAI has suggested that such a payment platform should be following the below guidelines:
– ISPs and all types of payment companies/wallets should be able to register on the platform. Subsequently, customers can register and pay using those payment mechanisms, and should be allowed to access Wi-Fi services seamlessly across ISPs in any part of the city or any state in India.
– A customer should be able to pay only for the amount and duration of data usage and not on the basis of already fixed data limits or duration.
-Users registering on the platform should be traceable as a security requirements to avoid any malpractices or breaches.
– Users should be allowed to fix a limit on the money to be spent for access to Wi-Fi services so that the customer is assured that his/her account will not be debited beyond a certain limit, unless explicitly authorized.
Why TRAI wants a central payment system
Several consumers said they faced difficulty paying for WiFi services, and wanted the balance of data from WiFi vouchers to be used in other hotspots as well, while the regulator conducted a consumer survey.
The regulator slated out following issues faced by both consumers while paying for public WiFi:
i) Different WiFi providers have back-end agreements with different payment gateway providers and no single platform is available for use across the country.
ii) Online transactions through public networks are insecure.
iii) Not all users are subscribed to payment methods like net-banking/debit/credit cards.
iv) Logistics problems an associated distribution costs faced by providers.
TRAI’s survey claims that not more than 10% of the users on Mumbai’s Ozone WiFi upgraded from free to paid service in a given month; and even though 400 to 500 users consumed free WiFi from BSNL’s services on a daily basis, only 70-80 users paid for WiFi after the free usage period.
Other issues and suggestions by TRAI on Public WiFi
De-licensing spectrum: The regulator suggested delicensing of the 60 GHz band for telcos and other organizations for deployment of public WiFi services. Another suggestion was delicensing and opening up unused frequency bands and TV white space spectrum for supporting further development of wireless Internet access, and other experimental technologies.
- Incentives for telcos and other players: Since ISPs and related telecom players make their own investment in setting up public WiFi services, TRAI proposed incentives to be provided to ISPs and Wi-Fi operators, such as Right of Way permissions, permission to setup kiosks at select locations to promote Wi-Fi services, etc.
- Login for customers: The regulator said that delivering OTPs as an SMS for user registration may be delayed in busy airports, markets, and other public places where a telecom network might be congested. So it suggested that ISPs and other WiFi providers could provide permanent user IDs and password to their own respective customers. Further TRAI suggested that authentication process can be centralized by using AADHAR cards as well.
- Infrastructure sharing and roaming: ISPs/telcos could implement a ‘neutral Wi-Fi network’ wherein subscribers of all ISPs/telcos can access public Wi-Fi without setting up multiple infrastructure facilities across the country. The neutral network can allocate separate SSID to each cellular operator. ISPs/telcos can get into agreements with one another for facilitating roaming of a Wi-Fi subscriber among networks.
- Public WiFi as a business opportunity: Wi-Fi hotspots can be setup by small-scale organizations, individuals, or even smaller shop owners. For this, TRAI has suggested implementing “light touch” regulation so as to create an employment opportunity for citizens and simultaneously increase broadband penetration in both rural and urban reaches.
Questions for consultation
TRAI has issued a 12-point question for consultation on Public WiFi services. Stakeholders/consumers can forward their answers/comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Q1. Are there any regulatory issues, licensing restrictions or other factors that are hampering the growth of public Wi-Fi services in the country?
Q2. What regulatory/licensing or policy measures are required to encourage the deployment of commercial models for ubiquitous city-wide Wi-Fi networks as well as expansion of Wi-Fi networks in remote or rural areas?
Q3. What measures are required to encourage interoperability between the Wi-Fi networks of different service providers, both within the country and internationally?
Q4. What measures are required to encourage interoperability between cellular and Wi-Fi networks?
Q5. Apart from frequency bands already recommended by TRAI to DoT, are there additional bands which need to be de-licensed in order to expedite the penetration of broadband using Wi-Fi technology? Please provide international examples, if any, in support of your answer.
Q6. Are there any challenges being faced in the login/authentication procedure for access to Wi-Fi hotspots? In what ways can the process be simplified to provide frictionless access to public Wi-Fi hotspots, for domestic users as well as foreign tourists?
Q7. Are there any challenges being faced in making payments for access to Wi-Fi hotspots? Please elaborate and suggest a payment arrangement which will offer frictionless and secured payment for the access of Wi-Fi services.
Q8. Is there a need to adopt a hub-based model along the lines suggested by the WBA, where a central third party AAA (Authentication, Authorization and Accounting) hub will facilitate interconnection, authentication and payments? Who should own and control the hub? Should the hub operator be subject to any regulations to ensure service standards, data protection, etc?
Q9. Is there a need for ISPs/ the proposed hub operator to adopt the Unified Payment Interface (UPI) or other similar payment platforms for easy subscription of Wi-Fi access? Who should own and control such payment platforms? Please give full details in support of your answer.
Q10. Is it feasible to have an architecture wherein a common grid can be created through which any small entity can become a data service provider and able to share its available data to any consumer or user?
Q11. What regulatory/licensing measures are required to develop such architecture? Is this a right time to allow such reselling of data to ensure affordable data tariff to public, ensure ubiquitous presence of Wi-Fi Network and allow innovation in the market?
Q12. What measures are required to promote hosting of data of community interest at local level to reduce cost of data to the consumers?
Q13. Any other issue related to the matter of Consultation