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DoT plans public wi-fi in cities with over 1M people; We hope it works

As part of Government of India’s Digital India initiative, the Department of Telecom (DoT) is beginning a project that will apparently provide public Wi-Fi services in cities with a population of more than 1 million, reports The Hindu Business Line.

DoT has reportedly been asked to work out the modalities of the project, including creating a separate licensing framework for private telecom operators interested in offering public Wi-Fi service.

It’s worth noting that several telecom operators including Vodafone and MTNL have been piloting WiFi hotspots in a bid to offload users to WiFi networks, thereby reducing the network congestion and address the growing data consumption on its network.

In March this year, Tata Teleservices had also stated plans to set up 4,000 WiFi hotspots in nine cities across India over the next two years while Reliance Jio had also launched free Wi-Fi hotspots in eight locations at Ahmedabad and nine locations at Baroda and Surat, as part of Gujarat government’s ‘e-Nagar’ project. This was expected to be rolled out to 53 towns in Gujarat in the long run.

Paid Wi-Fi service

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However, DoT notes that this service will likely not be free, which could possibly be a major roadblock. Note that Aircel CMO Anupam Vasudev had earlier said in a panel discussion that people are typically unwilling to pay for a public WiFi service since they want the service to be free, due to which public WiFi services don’t typically work out.

That being said, India doesn’t have a great track record with public WiFi yet. Several announcements have been made, but there is little in terms of delivery. This has especially increased over the past year or so. Some of them include:

-In February 2014, Bihar government introduced a 20 km free Wi-Fi zone between National Institute of Technology (NIT) Patna (located at Ashok Rajpath) and Danapur town present in western Patna.

-A month before that free Wi-Fi hotspots called Namma Wi-Fi were set up on M G Road, Brigade Road and four other locations in Bangalore, as part of a pilot project Karnataka government had announced during the state budget presentation in July 2013. However, it has never worked for us whenever we tried.

-The Indian government was also planning to set up Wi-Fi hotspots across 2.5 lakh village panchayats in October 2013. This was part of its national optical fibre network project.

Wi-Fi on trains and at stations: While presenting the 2014 Railway Budget, Railways Minister D.V.Sadananda Gowda had announced plans to provide Wi-Fi service at A1 and A category railway stations. Earlier this month, Indian Railways reiterated the Minister’s proposal and also proposed to extend the service to 50 rakes of important trains, like Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Duranto. It was planning to spend Rs 55 crore on this initiative.

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In April last year, it had apparently introduced Wi-Fi facility in 3 rakes of Howrah-New Delhi-Howrah Rajdhani Express as a pilot project, about two years after the initial announcementThe problem though, we’ve heard of similar launches before, but have never really seen it being implemented. Either it gets delayed at the implementation stage or else it gets launched but never works.

It is yet to be seen whether this project will actually get implemented or will face similar fate as other public wi-fi initiatives from the government.

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