State owned telco BSNL will set up more than 1,000 WiFi hotspots in rural exchanges in Kerala circle in the next six months, reports PTI. These hotspots will be set up through financial support from Universal Services Obligation Fund (USOF)—a government owned fund that that is exclusively meant for subsidizing telecom services. Each user will be able to consume up to 4GB a month. The telco claims that its WiFi service will be supported by 4G spectrum and also has a mobile app for the discovery of WiFi networks and authentication.

The Kerala state project by BSNL is a part of the telco’s original plan to install 25,000 new WiFi hotspots across rural areas in the country using money from USOF. This was announced in June. BSNL is eligible to secure funds of up to Rs 940 crore, which will be disbursed over a three-year period. In the first year, USOF will cover 100% cost incurred by BSNL for its WiFi project. In the second year, USOF will cover 75% cost and another 50% in the third year. Note that BSNL had received Rs 1250 crore in subsidy funds from USOF in September last year for its rural broadband service.

More than 620K BSNL users in Kerala have linked Aadhaar; Will it be used in WiFi based tracking?

BSNL officials told PTI that a total of 140 locations in Kerala have already been fitted with 418 4G WiFi access points. These access points are also being used for mobile data offloading—charging users for WiFi usage straight from their data pack balance. Note that each user connected to BSNL’s WiFi service can be identified uniquely using their Aadhaar numbers linked with their phone numbers. In Kerala state alone 620,000 BSNL subscribers have seeded their Aaadhaar no. with their phone numbers out of the total 95 lakh subscribers, officials added.

Some users may own more than one mobile numbers, and by linking all of these numbers to single Aadhaar number, BSNL can easily make out the name of the person connected to its network. Secondly, we do not know if BSNL collects data usage habits, sites visited, incoming/outgoing P2P traffic, VPN usage, among others. With Aadhaar being linked to mobile numbers, it’s going be easier for BSNL to simply track usage habits and link it to the person’s Aadhaar number, effectively creating a profile of the user along with his/her interests. Note that BSNL was earlier found injecting HTML ads into user’s connections and these ads can also be used to track usage habits.

Other BSNL WiFi projects

In India, BSNL has been installing its own WiFi hotspots in various locations, including at tourist destinations, and more hotspots in 40,000 locations around the country to make up for the lack of its own 4G services.  BSNL is also part of BharatNet, a government-owned fiber project that aims to connect 1 lakh gram panchayats by 2018. BSNL will use its own fiber backhaul and tap on BharatNet’s cable network reach for its WiFi hotspots.

  • It recently outsourced a Rs 1,000 crore WiFi deployment contract to a consortium of companies led by Larsen & Toubro in February. The contract was for installing 35,000 WiFi hotspots in the country by March 2018.
  • BSNL is also making money by leasing bandwidth to Facebook’s Express WiFi project.
  • In January this year, it deployed 3,000 WiFi hotspots in Assam, and in October last year.
  • BSNL had signed a deal with the Union Tourism Ministry to equip 100 tourist destinations with high-speed public hotspots in October last year.
  • In the same month, the telco said that it would install WiFi at 10,000 government owned schools in Kerala.
  • Apart from this BSNL tied up with Tata Communications to allow BSNL users travelling abroad to connect with over 44 million WiFi hotspots around the world, managed by Tata.