The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) will install 10,000 WiFi hotspots across the country in the coming month, with 600 hotspots already running, The Economic Times has reported.

Aruna Sundararajan, Telecom Secretary, said in an official statement “The idea is to launch it first, and refine as we go. We expect to launch 10,000 Wi-Fi hotspots when we launch it next month, and scale up to a 100,000 in the first three months.”

TRAI’s push for open-architecture Wi-Fi

The DoT is setting up the hotspots under Public Open Wi-Fi project, which is TRAI’s attempt at creating a framework for open architecture Wi-Fi, which it has been pushing for a year. TRAI floated a pilot project in October 2017, called Wi-Fi Access Network Interface (WANI). It was based on a multiple-provider, interoperable model. The 6-month-long project had eight entities providing nearly 600 Wi-Fi networks in different parts of the country. The TRAI calls these entities public data offices (PDOs) for last-mile connectivity. During the six-month-long pilot project, PDOs (hotspot providers) bought data from ISPs and resold it to users in smaller size packs, costing Rs 2-20 in a “pay-as-you-go” model.

This development comes as TRAI works out its Aadhaar login-based WiFi hotspot architecture. WiFi hotspots are highly regulated in India since operators need special permissions to resell bandwidth and have to verify the identity — via SMS-based one-time passcodes — of every user who signs up on the network. This essentially means that only large conglomerates, established telcos and government organizations are in a position to set hotspots up. TRAI’s Aadhaar-based architecture aims to resolve this scarcity of hotspots by standardising the captive portal and authentication side of things. This also accommodates the ‘security concerns’ usually displayed by government agencies whenever the prospect of widely available WiFi hotspots is raised.

In April, TRAI released a 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”.

Other developments in public Wi-Fi

-The DoT has just floated a tender for setting up over 500,000 WiFi hotspots across gram panchayats under the BharatNet program run by the Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL). The project is expected to be rolled out by the end of this year. There are currently 43,000 Wi-Fi hotspots installed in rural areas. TRAI Chairman RS Sharma has clarified that WANI and BharatNet are not going to be fused, both projects will remain separate and independent.

-Google just covered its 400th railway station in India under Google Station, a project to set up Wi-Fi hotspots at railway stations across the country, in partnership with Indian Railways and the ISP RailTel. Google manages the WiFi network at these 400 stations, while RailTel provides the fibre infrastructure.

-The Kerala government unveiled a public Wi-Fi project in August 2017. The state plans to set up Wi-Fi hotspots in 2,000 public places like government offices, bus stops, parks, tourist destinations, courts and public ‘seva kendras’.

-The Karnataka government announced in March 2017 that it will install WiFi hotspots across 2,500 gram panchayats, with an overall investment of Rs 50 crore.