India has fallen significantly short of its target for rolling out public Wi-Fi hotspots. Only around 0.5 million hotspots have been established, much lower than the intended 10 million by the end of 2022 as outlined in the National Digital Communications Policy-2018.

Comparatively, when looking at the number of public Wi-Fi hotspots per million population, India’s count is 175 times lower than that of the UK, 50 times lower than the US, and 75 times lower than China. At this rate, India is also likely to miss its more ambitious target of 50 million public Wi-Fi hotspots by 2030, as stated in the latest Bharat 6G Vision document.

As per industry experts, one significant reason for the failure of public Wi-Fi is the exorbitant charges for internet leased lines, ranging from Rs 400,000 to Rs 800,000 per year, that telecom operators or internet service providers impose on public data offices (PDOs) and public data office aggregators (PDOAs). These entities are responsible for purchasing bulk internet bandwidth and providing public Wi-Fi services to users.

However, according to Broadband India Forum (BIF), the Prime Minister Wi-Fi Access Network Interface (PM-WANI) program could significantly improve the country’s digital infrastructure in rural areas and enhance fast broadband access for the general public. It has called for the intervention of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to revitalise and enhance the business case for public Wi-Fi. BIF proposes a potential solution to the viability challenges faced by the PM-WANI program, suggesting that the internet connectivity cost for PDOs/PDOAs should be closer to the current rates of home broadband, which are much more affordable. However, telcos reject this idea, citing the substantial costs involved in procuring international bandwidth, setting up cable landing stations, and deploying fibre across the country.