Public WiFi will onboard 40 million new people onto the internet and contribute $20 billion to India’s GDP by 2019, according to an Analysys Mason report commissioned by Google. The report comes as Google completes its goal of having WiFi hotspots under its Google Station brand in 400 stations. “Despite fast increases in a number of people connected [to the internet], mobile broadband penetration in India stood at only 31% at the end of 2017,” Google and Analysys said. The report urges that TRAI and the telecom department need to do more to enable this WiFi hotspot growth. Specifically, the report says:

The costs of deploying public Wi-Fi hotspots need to be managed. This implies that more spectrum should be available for Wi-Fi, that rights of way be obtainable in straightforward and low-cost manner, that active sharing of Wi-Fi infrastructure be allowed, that Wi-Fi aggregator hub-based model be encouraged and that issues around authentication, licensing and payments be resolved.

The report [PDF] says that Public WiFi will connect 40 million new users to the Internet by 2019 and that around 100 million people would be willing to spend an additional USD 2 to 3 billion per year on handsets and a similar amount on cellular mobile broadband services, as a result of experiencing fast broadband on public WiFi. Analysys pointed out that telcos can benefit from using technologies like Hotspot 2.0 — where phones automatically switch from a carrier’s mobile data to nearby WiFi routers seamlessly. Jio uses this technology in some places. This would help telcos manage traffic, the report says.

15% WiFi users willing to buy mobile data

15% of Google WiFi users, after getting a taste of high-speed internet access, are willing to get a 4G SIM to continue to have that access, the report said. Aside from this, the report points out these stats on Google Station’s users:

— WiFi usage inside stations in a 30-minute duration is thrice as much as the amount of data the average 3G subscriber uses in a whole day. Here’s 3G usage (throughout the day) compared with Google Station (30-minute duration), and Jio 4G usage (throughout the day):

3G: 100MB per user per day. Railtel/Google WiFi: 300MB per user per 30 minutes. Jio: 560MB per user per day.

Source: Analysys Mason

— First-time internet users spend nearly half their time on the internet in train stations with WiFi. On average, users spend 68% of their time in stations connected to WiFi.

Source: Analysys Mason

— Nearly three-fourths of WiFi users use social media or ‘evolved productivity’ (email, news, etc). 35% watch video and other ‘rich media’. The report cites a Cisco estimate that video’s share of internet traffic will be a larger slice than it is in the US right now in 2021, at over 75%.

Source: Analysys Mason

— Nearly one-fourth of users are willing to pay for WiFi, while less than a fifth are willing to spend time filling out their name, email address, and so on to do so. But people aren’t willing to pay that much — 40% of users willing to pay prefer paying ₹5 for 30 minutes, while just 5% are willing to pay ₹40.

Source: Analysys Mason

— While urban areas are fully covered by 4G (“Mobile Broadband” [MBB]), rural areas still only have half as much coverage. This is where WiFi has more potential and an accessibility advantage.

— Rolling out WiFi works out 30% cheaper per user than traditional mobile networks:

Source: Analysys Mason


Regulatory challenges for hotspots

As the report points out, there are high regulatory and monetary costs associated with running a WiFi hotspot in India.

TRAI has been workshopping its Aadhaar login-based WiFi hotspot architecture. Regulatorily speaking, operators need special permission 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.

Here is Analysys’s depiction of what it will take regulatorily to make WiFi hotspots successful:

Source: Analysys Mason

But as 4G gets cheaper in the wake of Jio, it’s unclear how much momentum WiFi hotspots can gain to address the data needs Google’s report outlines.