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Facebook & BSNL tieup to provide WiFi in rural areas


Facebook and BSNL have entered a partnership to create 100 WiFi hotspots in rural areas in India, reports ET. According to the report, Facebook will invest Rs 5 crore per year to buy bandwidth from BSNL in this joint venture, while infrastructure providers like Trimax and Quad Zen will provide equipment and fibre deployment.

Facebook mentions that it plans to rollout the WiFi by December 31st this year, with consumers getting free Internet for the first half an hour. The network will be capable of handling an average of 2000 connected devices at the same time. However, it’s not clear how much consumers will be charged past the free period.

The initiative will start off with 100 villages, with Rs 5 lac spent per year per site for buying bandwidth from BSNL. As of now, the initiative claims to be present in 25 villages under the pilot programme in southern and western India. The report also mentions that the partnership is likely to be scaled up and extended from three years to five.

Issues with Net Neutrality: Note that while Facebook mentions that users will get the first half hour for free, we wonder if the company will be tempted to offers its own services for free past that time, while charging for access to other services. This would be along the lines of Internet.org, or Free Basics, or whatever Facebook prefers to call it these days, and would resoundingly violate the principles on Net Neutrality.

Also readOpen Letter to Mark Zuckerberg Regarding Internet.org, Net Neutrality, Privacy, and Security

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On the other hand, it the company sticks to providing the whole Internet for free and paid, with no segregation between the type of data a consumer is consuming, then such initiatives are a good way forward to bring internet to the masses.

Google WiFi at stations : In September, Google tied-up with the Indian Railways and RailTel to provide high speed WiFi coverage in 400 stations across India, with the first batch of 100 stations to be completed by the end of 2016. The remaining 300 stations would follow in ‘quick succession’, but there is no timeline given for it.

The public Wifi space has been really picking up steam in India, although questions over security and privacy remain. The rising interest in public WiFi is helped by the fact that mobile data charges are quite high in India, while smartphone adoption is also at an all time high.

Other public WiFi initiatives:

– In June, Airtel won the mandate for the launch of Wi-Fi services in Gurgaon from the Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon (MCG).

– The same month, state-run telecom operator BSNL tied up with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to provide WiFi hotspots for tourists at the Taj Mahal.

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– It’s worth noting that Airtel had piloted Wifi at Cyberhub in Gurgaon for a while, and its competitor Vodafone provided WiFi at a metro station near Cyberhub. The two have a joint venture, FireFly Networks, and had recently installed WiFi services at the Supreme Court of India. You can read more about this here.

– In April, Airtel also sought permission from the West Bengal government to set up Wi-Fi hotspots across Kolkata in competition with Reliance Jio, which had tied-up with the West Bengal government to introduce 4G-enabled free Wi-Fi service in some parts of the city.

– Sistema Shyam, which operates under the MTS brand in India, tied up with Indian Railways in April this year, to offer WiFi services at railway stations across India.

– In November last year, Tata Docomo tied-up with the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) to launch public Wi-Fi service in the Connaught Place area in Delhi.

– BSNL launched free WiFi in Varanasi in February this year.

Free Wifi was launched in Patna in February last year.

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– Apart from cities and towns, in the previous year, the citizens of Trikaripur village in Kasaragod district of Kerala got access to free Wi-Fi connectivity on their mobile phones through an optical fiber network of state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL).

– In January last year, Bangalore had become the first city to have free WiFi hotspots called Namma WiFi, on M G Road, Brigade Road and four other locations in Bangalore.

– In April this year, Hyderabad became the first city in the south zone to have BSNL Wifi internet.

Image source: Flickr user Arkangel

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