- Recently, Union Cabinet approved a proposal for setting up public WiFi hotspots across the country via public data offices or PDOs, which could even be a kirana shop or a paan shop.
- The move, aimed at helping accelerate the uptake of broadband Internet services, will not require the PDOs to get a license or pay a fee.
- The public WiFi Access Network Interface, which will be called ‘PM-WANI’, was first recommended by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in 2017.
- This will involve multiple players, including PDOs, Public Data Office Aggregators (PDOA), app providers, and a central registry.
- PDOs — comparable to a PCO or a cybercafe — will establish, maintain, and operate WiFi access points and deliver broadband services to subscribers, while the PDOAs will be aggregators of PDOs and perform functions such as authorisation and accounting.
Are there global examples of a public wi-fi network?
- In most European countries and some southeast Asian countries, the concept of public Wi-Fi is that of a decentralised network, where shops, restaurants and cafes, public transport facilities have rolled out wireless internet on their own. However, the number of public hotspots is only increasing across the globe.
- According to Cisco Annual Internet Report (2018-2023), there will be nearly 623 million public Wi-Fi hotspots across the world by 2023, up from 169 million hotspots as of 2018.
- Within this, the highest share of hotspots by 2023 will be in the Asia Pacific region at 46%.
- As per the calculations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), based on Cisco’s estimates, India should have 100 million Wi-Fi hotspots by 2023.
- According to TRAI, in most major economies, for 50%-70% of their total usage time, mobile users use WiFi technology to communicate. However, in India, this figure is less than 10%.
- Service providers had in 2018 stated that they aimed to provide 5 lakh hotspots by March 31, 2019 and 10 lakh hotspots by September 30, 2019.
- However, these targets have not been achieved.
What are the potential pitfalls of a public Wi-Fi network?
- The US Federal Trade Commission’s consumer information portal highlights the threats of public Wi-Fi hotspots. It says that while Wi-Fi hotspots in coffee shops, libraries, airports, hotels, universities, and other public places are convenient, they’re often not secure. The portal also points out that most Wi-Fi hotspots don’t encrypt information that is sent over the Internet and therefore aren’t secure. This could potentially lead to hacking or unapproved access to personal information on the device.
- The Indian public Wi-Fi hotspot network, however, envisages that the access to the Internet through these points will be permitted only through electronic KYC and a mix of OTP and MAC ID-based authentication system, thereby minimising the risk of network security being compromised.
- Additionally, the viability of public Wi-Fi networks in India has also been called into question with several tech-giants already having tried and failed.
- In 2017, social media company Facebook had launched Express Wi-Fi. The project made little impact. Google’s Station project, to provide free wi-fi in more than 400 railway stations across India and “thousands” of other public places, which was launched in 2015, was shut down earlier this year. Google cited cheaper and more accessible mobile data, government initiatives to provide access to the Internet for everyone and the challenge of varying technical requirements and infrastructure among its partners across countries as the reasons to explain its decision of shutting down the programme.