Public Wi-Fi has emerged as one of the most successful means of enhancing broadband proliferation among the masses globally. For India, too, public Wi-Fi can be seen as a low-cost option for reaching unserved citizens. To this end, the recently launched Prime Minister Wi-Fi Access Network Interface (PM-WANI) initiative is a big leap towards providing Wi-Fi ubiquity in India. Under the initiative, public Wi-Fi networks will be set up by public data office aggregators (PDOAs), which will provide these services through public data offices (PDOs). Given the NDCP objective of creating 10 million public Wi-Fi hotspots by 2022, and with the present number being a mere 0.35 million, the PM-WANI policy will result in the creation of enormous demand and scope for developing the components of this crucial pan-Indian activity. According to the Broadband India Forum, this presents a great opportunity to local manufacturing and supply chain companies for producing indigenous Wi-Fi equipment to cater to these millions of hotspots, providing a massive impetus to the national mission of atmanirbharta.
A look at the PM-WANI ecosystem and recent developments in this area…
The PM-WANI ecosystem will be operated by different players, including PDOs, PDOAs, app providers and the central registry. The PDOs, PDOAs and app providers will need to get themselves registered with the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) through an online registration portal, without paying any registration fee. According to the government, registration will be granted within seven days of application. Under the project, businesses interested in offering Wi-Fi services can use their physical location to provide Wi-Fi to anyone who is nearby. This will be done through internet connectivity from telcos such as Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio, or other internet service providers (ISPs). The PM-WANI initiative allows any retailer to become a PDO for Rs 250 per month. In January 2021, i2e1, a Delhi-based start-up, launched the first PDO. The PDO has been established in South Delhi’s Kusumpur Pahadi area, and will allow area residents to access 50 Mbps of high speed, unlimited internet at Rs 5 per day with no registration.
In August 2021, the government announced that RailTel had submitted a proposal to DoT for leveraging its network in rural India and its collaborative broadband services model to provide PM-WANI-enabled community Wi-Fi services. Meanwhile, in June 2021, HFCL, in collaboration with the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), announced that it would be setting up the second PM-WANI-powered connectivity network in Baidebettu village in Karnataka. This network will provide high speed Wi-Fi internet to over 9,000 residents of the poorly connected village located in Brahmavara taluk, Udupi district. The project will entail the setting up of a robust outdoor Wi-Fi network for providing broadband internet connectivity to the entire village population. The outdoor network will use HFCL IO’s TIP OpenWiFi-based access points, point-to-point radios, solar power over Ethernet (PoE) devices and other network equipment. The Wi-Fi network authentication and regulatory monitoring will be powered by i2e1 core solutions, which would also act as the PDOA under the PM-WANI model. This development came after the huge success of HFCL’s first PM-WANI model village deployment in the small remote village of Baslambi in Haryana. HFCL intends to replicate the model and once again demonstrate the strength of the PM-WANI concept, powered by TIP’s multivendor compatible OpenWiFi capabilities.
Earlier, in April 2021, the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) launched a PM-WANI project at the Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Civic Centre. Under this, NDMC will install 20 Wi-Fi hotspots in all its wards. Similarly, in February 2021, the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) announced that it will establish 20 Wi-Fi hotspots in each of its 104 wards, under the PM-WANI scheme.
PM-WANI can fuel rapid internet inclusion in rural areas, which will be transformative given the current low levels of penetration in these areas compared to urban areas. The initiative will result in the creation of millions of Wi-Fi hotspots through unlicensed entities, which will not need to register, pay licence fees or comply with onerous statutory obligations. This will not only help provide broadband to all, but will also create direct and indirect employment opportunities for millions of small local entrepreneurs, as well as provide huge economic benefits resulting from broadband use cases. Further, it will result in the creation of enormous demand for indigenous Wi-Fi components, thereby opening up opportunities for domestic component manufacturers. Clearly, the Wi-Fi domain is set to witness intense activity in the coming years following the launch of the PM-WANI initiative.