India’s telecom regulator TRAI is inviting participation from companies/entities in the country to help set up a nation-wide interoperable WiFi network in form of Public Data Offices (PDOs) across the country. The new pilot project named Wi-Fi Access Network Interface (WANI) will run on a partnership model wherein small entrepreneurs and shop owners can set up WiFi hotspots (or PDOs) by acquiring bandwidth from multiple Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and re-selling bandwidth as data to end customers at a cheaper rate.

The pilot project of WANI will accept any company, proprietorship, societies, NGOs, etc. to help set up paid public WiFi access points across the country using a shared model. These companies will be able to purchase bandwidth from Public Data Office Aggregators (PDOAs)—a bandwidth aggregator which aggregates spectrum from multiple ISPs and provide them to PDO owners at cheaper rates. In this manner, the cost of setting up WiFi infrastructure will be shared without PDOs requiring to register for a telecom license.

What the WANI pilot will look to establish

  • Easy entry of small operators: Any entity should be able to easily deploy paid WiFi access points and open it for the public use. Entrepreneurs, small shop, and companies should be able to easily register, setup and operate a PDO with the least amount of maintenance possible.
  • One-click payments and easier connectivity: Users should be able to easily discover WANI’s WiFi hotspots (differentiated SSID), perform one-click payments and connect one or more devices in a single.
  • Cheap sachet-sized packs: WiFi usage must be sold to users for consumption in sachet format in denominations of Rs 2 to Rs 20, etc.
  • Unbundling the last mile: Providers including PDO providers, hardware & software providers, authentication and KYC providers will unbundle their services, allowing “multiple parties in the (telecom) ecosystem to come together and enable large scale adoption” of WiFi.
  • Dismantle Monopoly: TRAI said that WANI will try to establish a multi-provider, interoperable, collaborative model, to increase innovation, dismantle monopolies, and pass benefits to the end user.
  • Payment integration: TRAI suggested that WANI could be directly integrated with all kinds of payments providers including wallets, credit/debit cards, net banking, and UPI.

Who can be part of WANI pilot?

  • Public Data Office Providers: Small shops, bakeries, eateries, café outlets, cinema halls, museums, residential builders, are examples of Public Data Offices or PDOs. These PDOs have features of Public Call Offices (PCOs) but aggregates mobile data instead of providing cheap voice calls.
  • Public Data Office Aggregators (PDOAs) are PDOs who aggregate WiFi hotspots, bandwidth. PDOAs can also independently operate their own WiFi hotspots and provide it to the public using either free or paid model.
  • App Providers: Any mobile app company that can provide and manage eKYC (via mobile no. or Aadhaar) as well as digital payment providers.
  • Hotspot providers: Any domestic or foreign company manufacturing or providing WiFi/hotspot hardware, software services. Such providers will also unbundle their service/product to make it easier for PDOs to set up WiFi hotspots.

Any interested entity (company, proprietorship, societies, non-profits, etc.) registered in India can apply to TRAI with the additional identity details by 25th July 2017 to arvind@trai.gov.in OR broadbandtrai@gmail.com. More details on this here.

Why TRAI wants PDOs

The WANI pilot was envisaged by TRAI in its earlier consultation in November last year, for which recommendations were issued in March. At that time, TRAI said that unbundling bandwidth to smaller entrepreneurs (using PDOs) will help contribute towards increasing connectivity, especially in rural areas. Note that a startup from Bangalore has executed a model similar to TRAI’s Public Data Offices by setting up WiFi hotspots at bakeries/small eateries and providing data as low as Rs 20 for 1 GB.

Existing ISPs and telcos do not have any form of incentive push to deliver WiFi services in rural locations. “Due to these reasons, steps need to be taken to ensure that in addition to existing service providers, small providers can also enter the public Wi-Fi ecosystem and have the capability and incentives to provide public Wi-Fi on a small scale,” TRAI added in its recommendations in March.

Download: Invitation Notice and Introduction to WANI