The deployment of public Wi-Fi hotspots is one of the key pillars of the government’s ambitious Digital India initiative. Given the role the technology can play in providing affordable and highspeed broadband, the government has been laying strong emphasis on the proliferation of public Wi-Fi networks. All the smart city programmes have public Wi-Fi networks as a key ICT infrastructure in their blueprint.
The governments at the state and local levels are realising that internet access is a necessary service that they must provide free alongside other infrastructure. Access to affordable internet can also lead to the development of an entrepreneurial spirit among people, who will then be able to generate avenues for self-employment. Therefore, in the past few state and local body elections, free internet through Wi-Fi networks has been used as an attractive new incentive by political parties to lure urban voters.
Bengaluru was the first city to provide free Wi-Fi service, called Namma Wi-Fi, in select areas in January 2014. The state government partnered with D-VoiS Communications for the project and offered speeds of up to 512 kbps in the Wi-Fi zones. The usage was limited to three hours a day or up to 50 MB of data. A number of state and local governments have since joined the Wi-Fi bandwagon.
A look at the recent initiatives taken and planned by state and local governments in the Wi-Fi space…
In what is touted as one of the largest public Wi-Fi initiatives in the country, the Telangana government recently launched a Wi-Fi project in Hyderabad named Hy-Fi. Under this, the government has set up over 1,000 Wi-Fi hotspots across the city. The project has been rolled out in collaboration with private players. Indus Towers has created the infrastructure for the project while service providers like ACT Fibrenet, Airtel and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited are providing connectivity. The Cellular Operators Association of India is the technical adviser to the Telangana government for the project and is also responsible for coordinating the operations of the telecom operators involved. The players have planned an investment of Rs 3 billion for the initiative, part of which has already been invested and the rest will be done in the next two months.
Hy-Fi will provide an assured bandwidth of 5-10 Mbps and offer 30 minutes of free Wi-Fi service at public locations in the city. The services will be charged after 30 minutes. The government is currently in the process of finalising the browsing charges with the industry so as to ensure that standard charges are levied by all the players.
Earlier, in June 2015, the government had launched a pilot version of the Hy-Fi project as part of the Digital Telangana initiative. Under this, it had partnered with internet service providers to provide free Wi-Fi services for 30 minutes at around 100 public locations across Hyderabad. Over the past two years, the services have been extended to about 250 locations. Following the success of the project, the government has decided to scale it up to cover around 3,000 hotspot locations. The remaining 2,000 hotspots will be installed over the next few months. The government is also planning to extend the project to Warangal, Karimnagar and Khammam districts in Telangana.
Telangana’s conducive policies have helped the industry to successfully roll out the large-scale Wi-Fi project. The government is also allowing the use of its own properties wherever required for the deployment of hotspots.
In January 2017, the Maharashtra government rolled out 500 Wi-Fi hotspots in Mumbai, including the Vidhan Bhawan, Bombay High Court, Kalanagar and the police commissioner’s office, as part of the Aaple Sarkar Mumbai Wi-Fi initiative. The service was initially offered free with unlimited usage till January 31, 2017.
The Maharashtra Information Technology Corporation has collaborated with US-based companies like Hewlett-Packard and Fortinet for the roll-out of the project. State-run operator Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited is providing bandwidth for the service while Larsen & Toubro (L&T) is serving as the systems integrator. During the trial period from January 2 to January 8, 2017, around 23,000 users accessed the service, downloading more than 2 TB of data. Another 1,200 Wi-Fi hotspots will be added in the second phase of the project.
Pune Smart City Development Corporation Limited (PSCDCL), a special purpose vehicle formed for the implementation of the Smart Cities Mission, awarded a Wi-Fi deployment contract worth Rs 1.5 billion to Google in February 2017. The value of the contract includes capital expenditure, operating expenditure and revenue sharing. Around 15-20 per cent of the revenue generated through the city-wide Wi-Fi network will be shared with PSCDCL.
Google has collaborated with IBM, L&T and RailTel for executing the project. Under the collaboration, Google will help monetise the city Wi-Fi network and deploy its Station Wi-Fi platform at places with large footfalls such as shopping malls, transit stations, cafes and universities. RailTel, meanwhile, will provide last-mile fibre connectivity on a need basis.
L&T will act as the master system integrator for the smart city project and also set up emergency call boxes and public address systems, environmental sensors, variable messaging displays, network connectivity and video analytics integration systems.
The governments at the state and local levels are realising that internet access is a necessary service that they must provide free alongside other infrastructure.
In May 2017, the Punjab government signed an MoU with Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited (RJIL) to provide free Wi-Fi facility in all state-run engineering colleges, industrial training institutes and polytechnics. According to the state government, the move will allow students to access free internet for academic purposes, and encourage cashless transactions and digitalisation. RJIL will set up the infrastructure, and bear the cost of equipment and electricity required for Wi-Fi functioning. Meanwhile, the colleges will provide suitable space and security for the service, in addition to the relevant network equipment.
The Tamil Nadu government, in September 2016, announced that it is planning to establish Wi-Fi zones in the city called Amma Wi-Fi zones. Initially, these zones will come up at 50 locations that include large bus terminuses, parks and other public spaces. Further, free internet facilities will be provided in 50 schools in the first phase at a cost of Rs 100 million, and around Rs 15 million will be allocated to maintain the facilities.
In order to provide free Wi-Fi services for accessing government sites, the Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) is looking to install smart poles in the city. The poles will have digital signboards, public address systems, sensors for weather and traffic, and other facilities. Telecom service providers will be given space on the poles for setting up their equipment. The vendor, which is yet to be selected, will be able to generate revenue through advertising on the poles, rentals from telecom service providers and charges for Wi-Fi after the free usage limit expires. The vendor will also share a portion of the revenue from VMC. Two smart poles have so far been installed on a trial basis in the city.
Despite being a late entrant in the IT space, Bihar is taking rapid strides in this direction. In February 2014, the state government launched a 20 km free Wi-Fi zone between the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Patna, and Danapur in western Patna. The Wi-Fi zone is the longest in the world, followed by China’s 3.5 km long Wi-Fi zone and a 2.5 km long Wi-Fi stretch in London. Students and officials of several educational institutions located along this route are the major beneficiaries of the free service. The government also plans to provide free Wi-Fi facility at all tourist spots in the state.
The Haryana government partnered with RJIL in December 2016 for providing free Wi-Fi services in all government colleges in the state. Under the partnership, RJIL will install the overall infrastructure for Wi-Fi networks and pay the electricity bills so generated. The operator will offer 20 MB of free usage per day per user for students and staff of the colleges for one year. The government has directed all government colleges in the state to provide suitable space, security and relevant network equipment for setting up the Wi-Fi network.
Puneet Kumar Arora