Tremendous opportunity exists for the rapid proliferation of public Wi-Fi hotspots in India, and the PM WANI initiative can result in a massive scale-up of the internet in rural areas, which will be transformative, Trai Chairman said on Friday. India needs all kinds of technology to serve its digital ambitions, and the technology-neutral stance will serve as a prime catalyst for the required growth, P D Vaghela, Chairman of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), said.
“There is a tremendous opportunity in India for the proliferation of public Wi-Fi hotspots. PM WANI (PM Wi-Fi Access Network Interface) can result in rapid scale-up of the internet in rural areas, which will be transformative given the low level of penetration (there) compared to urban areas,” he said while speaking at a virtual event organised by industry body Broadband India Forum (BIF).
India’s appetite for data appears to be insatiable, with the country now having over 750 million broadband connections.
“However, the potential for growth is still very high. I think, probably over 500 million more to be connected, especially in rural areas,” he pointed out.
Terming the internet as one of the most powerful socio-economic engines of growth, Vaghela said this is true not only for India but for the rest of the world.
“Wi-Fi 6 and 5G expand opportunities for digitisation across all industries…and enables organisations to be just everywhere, while increasing productivity and offering the best user experience,” he said.
The PM WANI initiative has been a historic step forward, he said, referring to the ambitious programme that aims to fuel broadband internet proliferation in the country through a mesh of public Wi-Fi networks and access points by local Kirana and neighbourhood shops.
“PM WANI system is a best low-cost alternative, which offers a way forward to connect low revenue consumers…,” he noted.
The BIF digital dialogues event also witnessed the release of an industry white paper titled Role and importance of next-generation Wi-Fi technologies in the acceleration of digital transformation’.
Some gaps need to be ironed out for the PM WANI scheme to pick up, the white paper said, flagging the need to create wider awareness about the scheme, its technical design, the utility of Public Wi-Fi services and associated benefits.
“A regulation prescribing ceiling rate with guaranteed QoS (quality of service) may be considered by Trai to ensure that ISPs/TSPs (internet and telecom service providers) do not exercise discriminatory practices in allocating bandwidth and pricing for PDOAs/PDOs,” BIF said summing up key suggestions contained in the white paper.
The government should facilitate easy bank loans or funding from USOF (Universal Service Obligation Fund) for small entrepreneurs to invest in the PDO/PDOA business, it said while calling for suitable modifications in the WANI framework to facilitate roaming.
“Spectrum in both 6 GHz and V band has been delicensed in several countries, to increase capacity and accelerate economic growth. Need to explore releasing these bands in India at the earliest to unlock their economic value through use in Wi-Fi services,” it added.
The government had earlier approved the setting up of public Wi-Fi networks and access points by local Kirana and neighbourhood shops through public data offices that will not involve any licence, fee or registration.
The public Wi-Fi Access Network initiative is aimed at bringing a massive Wi-Fi revolution in the country. The public Wi-Fi networks, under WANI, have an architecture involving multiple players — Public Data Office (PDO), Public Data Office Aggregators (PDOAs) and app providers.