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Facebook has started testing its Express WiFi, its public WiFi service in rural areas in India.  According to the company’s Internet.org website, the service is currently live in India and Facebook is “working with ISPs and carriers and local entrepreneurs” to help expand the project. The development was first reported by PTI.

Express WiFi is built on basis of public partnership model wherein small entrepreneurs work with Internet service providers to provide Internet access within their neighborhoods. These entrepreneurs would make an income from the partnership and they would use software owned by Facebook to connect their communities via WiFi.

A spokesperson from Facebook told MediaNama that the company is currently piloting the service in collaboration with telecom operators at many locations in the country without disclosing the areas. Users can purchase data packs through form of digital vouchers to connect to the Express WiFi network. However the spokesperson did not comment on when the service is expected go live, and the telecom companies that Facebook is partnering with for rollout.

Partnership model for WiFi

During MediaNama’s Open House Discussion regarding the Future of Public WiFi last month, Facebook had mentioned that the core access infrastructure such as towers, routers, physical access points would be deployed by itself under Express WiFi. Users will need to install a mobile app to register themselves onto the WiFi network. Telecom operator or ISPs would invest in network operations and maintenance, marketing and distribution, and customer support operations.

Express WiFi will target rural neighborhoods of at least 5000 people which has poor 3G connectivity or 2G only connection. Users will first need to create an account on the Express WiFi appp and locate nearby retailers to purchase data packs from. These retailers are tied up with Facebook and make income from re-selling data vouchers.

TRAI’s WiFi consultation for collaborative Wi-Fi projects

In a bid to speed up and ease setting up of WiFi services in India, TRAI suggested in a consultation paper that small shops, cafe and mall owners, telcos, ISPs, payment gateways, and even communities could step in and “divide the cost” of operating a WiFi hotspot. The regulator also suggested different types of partnership models between small shop owners, ISPs/telcos for setting up hotspots. More on this here.