The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has released its report on public WiFi networks, calling such networks a means to ensure “citizens have equitable and affordable access to information and knowledge and that their freedoms are protected, including their freedom of expression”.

The report carries details of TRAI’s pilot project, called Wi-Fi Access Network Interface (WANI), for public WiFi that used a multi-provider, interoperable model. The 6-month-long project began in October 2017 and had eight entities providing nearly 600 WiFi networks in different parts of the country. The TRAI calls these entities public data offices (PDOs) for last-mile connectivity. Here are some highlights from the report:

  • Bengaluru-based startup WiFi Dabba had the highest access points, 430, while Facebook’s partner for rural broadband AirJaldi also participated in this pilot.
  • Hotspot providers bought data from internet service providers and resold it to users in small-size packs costing from Rs 2-20 in a “pay-as-you-go” model.
  • They had tie-ups with Paytm, RazorPay and PayU for payments.
  • TRAI asked PDOs to provide a preferable speed of 2Mbps to every customer
  • Aadhaar linked e-KYC or OTP based m-KYC was used for authentication.
  • A 15-day testing was done in two TRAI offices, which brought nearly 800 sessions with more than 80 coupons sold and 50 online payments.
  • The TRAI’s report shows that 96.3% respondents found the app to be user-friendly.

Looking forward, TRAI plans to move to the next phase of the pilot which involves working with participants in Delhi and Bengaluru. It also plans to create an App testing and certification framework with a focus on testing KYC guidelines, interoperability and security of mobile apps.

Push for broadband

The TRAI argued for deploying public WiFi quoting the Analysys Mason’s Consumer Smartphone survey which found that WiFi accounted for nearly 80% of mobile traffic in India and that cellular share did not exceed 20% in normal working hours. It said that Indians consumed more cellular data than China, the question is who can provide convenient and affordable access, adding that public WiFi networks can be what PCOs were for long distance calling in India.

TRAI pointed out that India lags behind in rural connectivity and must take broadband services there. The body has been pushing for broadband for quite some time. In its recent recommendations for national telecom policy, it set the target of increasing the reach of wireless broadband service to 90% population by 2022.

In 2017, TRAI had also issued policy recommendations on Proliferation of Broadband through Public Wi-Fi Network, subject to approval by DoT. Among them is allowing for resale of data, a step necessary for implementing TRAI’s model. This would allow PDOs to buy data from ISPs and resell it to users in smaller size packs (as was done for the pilot). It also recommended that the DoT may amend existing terms of the ISP license to allow sharing of network infrastructure (routers, access points, etc.) with third party service providers. The authority asked for de-licensing spectrum in the 5.725 – 5.825 GHz spectrum band for outdoor usage, as well as spectrum bands in the 71-76 GHz and 81-86 GHz, V-bands (57-64 GHz) to service providers.