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PM WANI: India’s New Public Wi-Fi Project

  • 22 Dec 2020
  • 8 min read

Why in News

The Union Cabinet recently cleared a proposal by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to set up public Wi-Fi access network interfaces.

Key Points

  • PM-WANI: This will involve multiple players, including PDOs, PDOAs, app providers, and a central registry. PM-WANI infrastructure can be structured in the form of a pyramid.

  • Need for a Public Wi-Fi Network in India:
    • To increase the proliferation of internet services in the country.
      • With PDOs - which will basically be small retail outlets across the length and breadth of the country - last mile connectivity is being aimed at.
    • To offer a cost-effective option for the common man.
      • Even in urban areas with sufficient mobile data coverage, the mobile internet tariffs are bound to increase.
    • To achieve the ‘Digital India’ vision.
      • From 2015 to June of 2020, India grew from 302 million internet subscribers to 750 million. That is a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 20%, making India one of the fastest growing internet markets in the world.
      • However, this statistic overshadows the quality of access. Only 23 million are wired internet subscribers.
      • If Digital India vision is to be achieved, there is a need to deliver a resilient and reliable connection to every Indian, so that they can have reliable access everywhere, at affordable price points.
      • According to Digital Quality of Life Index 2020, India was placed at 9th position in Internet Affordability, outperforming even countries like the UK, the USA and China. While, for Internet Quality and E-infrastructure, India was almost at the bottom of the pillar placed at 78th and 79th (out of 85) positions respectively.
  • Potential Benefits:
    • It has the potential to generate over 2 crore jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities, besides offering a cost-effective means of mass connectivity.
      • Given the National Digital Communications Policy goals of creating 1 crore public Wi-Fi hotspots by 2022, and with the present number being merely at 3.5 lakh, PM-WANI is expected to result in the creation of demand and scope for developing the components for this pan-India activity (Atmanirbhar Bharat).
    • PDOs can become local distribution centres for content.
      • Students in rural areas can access offline content without using bandwidth.
    • Combining this with the liberalisation of the Other Service Providers (OSPs) regulations, one can see that India is paving the way for digital SMEs (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) to go online without the burden of onerous compliances.
    • It will further Ease of Doing Business and Ease of Living, as it will enable small shopkeepers to provide Wi-Fi service.
  • Challenges:
    • Network Security:
      • 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.
      • However, the Indian public Wi-Fi hotspot network envisages that the access to the Internet through these points will be permitted only through electronic KYC (Know Your Customer) and a mix of OTP (One-Time Password) and MAC ID-based authentication system, thereby minimising the risk of network security being compromised.
        • The MAC authentication method grants access to a secure network by authenticating devices for access to the network.
    • Viability of the Project:
      • 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.

Wi-Fi

  • It is a networking technology that uses radio waves to allow high-speed data transfer over short distances.
  • Wi-Fi allows Local Area Networks (LANs) to operate without cables and wiring, making it a popular choice for home and business networks.
  • Wi-Fi can also be used to provide wireless broadband Internet access for many modern devices, such as laptops, smartphones, tablet computers, and electronic gaming consoles.
  • Wi-Fi-enabled devices are able to connect to the Internet when they are near areas that have Wi-Fi access, called “hot spots”.
  • 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.

Centre for Development of Telematics

  • C-DOT was established in 1984 as an autonomous Telecom R&D centre of DoT, Government of India.
  • It is a registered society under the Societies Registration Act, 1860.
  • It is a registered ‘public funded research institution’ with the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR), Ministry of Science & Technology.

Way Forward

  • The citizen expects robust service, protection of data integrity, transparency on commercial use of data, and security against cyberattacks.
  • The government must also ensure true unbundling of hardware, software, apps and payment gateways in the WANI system, as advocated by TRAI, to prevent monopolies. Existing public wi-fi options run on a limited scale by some entities compel consumers to pay through a single gateway app, underscoring the need for reform.

Source: IE

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