Facebook is expanding its Express WiFi initiative in India in partnership with Bharti Airtel, with plans to operate 20,000 hotspots across India over the next few months. Remember that as early as a couple of years ago, India had an embarrassingly low number of 35,000 public WiFi hotspots. Express WiFi is also running in four other countries: Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria and Indonesia. Express WiFi was piloted in India in 2015, and eventually covered 700 hotspots in partnership with 500 local retailers, across Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Meghalaya. Facebook has partnered with AirJaldi in Uttarakhand, LMES in Rajasthan, and Tikona in Gujarat. The company is also partnering with Shaildhar in Meghalaya. Users can purchase daily, weekly or monthly data packs from Express WiFi retailers, but it's interesting to note that these will be sold at "a rate set by our partners." Google is also running WiFi operations in India, at railway stations, in partnership with Railwire, but there isn't a commercial model in place there; in comparison, Express WiFi aligns incentives for different stakeholders in the WiFi value chain. On the face of it, Express WiFi appears to be similar to what the Indian telecom regulator TRAI refers to as a Public Data Office Aggregator: tying up with a telecom operator for bandwidth, performing authentication, and managing a network of local stores that provide WiFi. The only thing: the regulation around Public Data Office Aggregators is still pending a confirmation from the Department of Telecommunications. The regulatory situation around WiFi and resale of bandwidth and Internet…
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