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Centre To Set Up Over 2.5 Million Wi-Fi Hotspots By Next Year

Aiming to provide broadband connectivity across all rural areas, the central government has chalked out an ambitious plan to set up over 2.5 million wi-fi hotspots.

The government is determined to make public wi-fi a success, telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan told DNA Money in an interview.

The wi-fi hotspots will enable the government to take internet connectivity beyond gram panchayats that are being connected under BharatNet.

Our strategy is divided into three parts in the first part, we will install 1.25 million wi-fi hotspots with funding from USO (universal service obligation) fund, second one under PDOA (public data office aggregator) system, 1 million wi-fi hotspots will be set up by telecom operators through viability gap funding, then in third part BSNL and CSCs (common service centres) are being encouraged to install hotspots, she said.

The tender for the first phase is already out and will be finalised by this month-end. While telecom players have suggested their own model of PDO, different from what was recommended by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), which is under consideration by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and will also be given final contours soon.

Trai had recommended setting up public data offices (PDOs), similar to public calling offices/cyber cafes to promote public wi-fi hotspots. PDOA could create a new category of service providers who will buy data from telecom or internet service providers and resell it to consumers.

“We will be able to complete installation of 1.25 million wi-fi hotspots by March 2019. In every gram panchayat, there will be two public wi-fi hotspots and 2-3 in every developmental institutions like schools, post office and police stations,” she said. Even for PDOs, the target is one year from now.

These wi-fi hotspots will ride on BharatNet, under which government is connecting 2.5 lakh gram panchayats through optical fibre.

The backhaul network is ready, since the first phase of connecting 1 lakh gram panchayats has been completed, while the second phase of connecting another 1.5 lakh GPs will be done by March 2019. “We may be able to finish the second phase even before our target of March. 2019 will be a year of wi-fi and we want to connect all rural areas through this,” she said.

In 7,183 GPs, the government in partnership with CSCs is offering WiFi Choupals (wi-fi hotspot service) in 12 states. Since the launch of these hotspots, there has been a 190% jump in data usage to 95 terabyte in six months of the service, according to a report of DoT in April.

The DoT in the draft of the new telecom policy had envisaged an investment of $100 billion in digital communications by 2022. The draft policy announced in May this year also fixed a target of providing 1 gbps connectivity to all GPs by 2020 and 10 gbps by 2022, setting up 5 million public wi-fi hotspots by 2020 and 10 million by 2022.

There are roughly 18 million broadband fixed line users, while there are over 1 billion mobile users, out of which 300-400 million are connected through internet. India has been ranked quite low at 134th in the global ranking for fixed broadband and poor fixed-line infrastructure has been a key reason for this. About 80% of data consumption happens indoors through fixed line in homes, in offices and other premises. Apart from BharatNet, telecom players such as Airtel, BSNL, MTNL have their own broadband services but the reach is quite limited. Reliance Jio, the new player in telecom sector, has recently announced plans of Jio Giga Fiber, a FTTH based broadband service.

The FTTH (fibre to the home) service will enable the fibre to reach directly homes/enterprises. Till now, optical fibre reached the premises of the buildings while last mile connectivity is done through copper cable which makes network speeds slower at times. FTTH is more efficient and will offer higher speeds. Alternate for FTTH is last mile connectivity through wi-fi hotspots. – DNA India

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