India's leading telecom operator Bharti Airtel could soon sign a deal with internet major Google for deployment of Wi-Fi hotspots using the latter's station Wi-Fi service in India. According to an Economic Times report, the move can help Airtel improve the broadband experience in the country through Wi-Fi offloading at a time when it tries to retain customers amid a fight with Reliance Jio.
A company source told the publication that both the companies are having initial discussions around WiFi deployment in India. A second person said that Airtel is getting into these new partnerships around WiFi to overcome monetization as well as ecosystem related challenges.
These discussions follow Airtel recently inked a deal with Facebook to deploy 20,000 Wi-Fi hotspots across the country. For Google, this is going to be an opportunity to achieve scale for its Station Wi-Fi service, which is being implemented in Pune in collaboration with IBM, Larsen & Toubro (L&T) and RailTel for Pune Smart City Development Corporation Ltd. (PSCSCL).
A second person told the publication that “Companies like Google and Facebook can help telcos overcome challenges related to software, as their existing software is not scalable. By partnering with telcos, companies like Google and Facebook are taking away some cost by providing software."
The Google Station platform has WiFi network management capability and focuses on monetization to make the service self-sustainable.
Google India spokesperson informed the publication that the internet major was talking to all venue owners and telecom service providers for Gstation as a full stack Wi-Fi solution provider.
Google has been providing free Wi-Fi service in collaboration with state-run RailTel via Railwire Wi-Fi across 100 railway stations in India. It had first launched Wi-Fi services at Mumbai Central in January 2016 and has an aim to bring services to 400 stations eventually.
Rohan Dhamija, partner and head for India and South Asia at Analysys Mason, said that these partnerships are an extension of Airtel’s Wi-Fi offload strategy, as these Wi-Fi hotspots will help the telco offload traffic in peak congestion area. He added that Airtel's Wi-Fi strategy will be more to help improve customer experience without spending additional on traditional mobile networks, and not necessarily a strategy around direct monetization.
Bharti Airtel had earlier launched a Wi-Fi application called Airtel Hangout-Seamless Wi-Fi, which is aimed at shifting data traffic away from the cellular network to help decongest it and improve services. Airtel's app works within the Delhi-NCR at all Cafe Coffee Day outlets and some hotels and hospitals.
Vodafone India also has a similar application.