Public Wi-Fi Gets a Big Push: Trai Invites Companies to Set Up Hotspots Under WANI Pilot Project

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In a bid to give India's public Wi-Fi domain a major push, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) is preparing for a pilot project, called Wi-Fi Access Network Interface (WANI). The regulator has invited all ecosystem players, including all companies, app providers and hardware or software providers that will set up public Wi-Fi hotspots.


These Wi-Fi hotspots will be called Public Data Offices (PDOs) and will offer pay-as-you-go 'sachet-sized' Wi-Fi service priced between Rs. 2 and Rs. 20, making Internet access affordable for the common public.

The regulator, in its release on public Wi-Fi, said that the pilot would allow users to discover WANI compliant SSIDs quickly, and enable them to authenticate and payment to connect one or more devices in a single session. It added that the experience for a small entrepreneur to purchase, self-register, set-up and operate a PDO will be simple, low-touch and maintenance-free.

"Providers (PDO provider, Access Point hardware/software, user authentication and KYC provider, and payment provider) are unbundled to eliminate silos and closed systems. This allows multiple parties in the ecosystem to come together and enable large-scale adoption," the Trai said.

For the pilot, Trai said that the pilot would demonstrate that unbundling of services reduces rework, speeds up development and hence is the most effective way to tackle this complex problem. The pilot, it said, will also prove that Multi-provider, interoperable, collaborative model increases the overall innovation in the system, dismantles monopolies and encourages passing of benefits to end user.

The pilot will help the regulator to test the specifications in real life conditions, and suggest improvements, and will allow to jointly develop a business model that fairly allocates value to each provider.

Recognising the importance of public Wi-Fi networks in the Indian context, Trai recently initiated a consultation process on this subject in July 2016. The motivation behind the consultation process was to identify issues in the proliferation of public Wi-Fi in the country. As part of this process, Trai released the "Consultation on Proliferation of Broadband through Public Wi-Fi Networks". The consultation paper (CP) highlighted issues like interoperability between the Wi-Fi networks of different service providers, de-licensing of additional bands for public Wi-Fi deployment and challenges in authentication and payments procedure of public Wi-Fi networks.

The regulator also conducted a stakeholder workshop on this issue on September 28, 2016, in collaboration with IIIT, Bangalore. During the discussions, difficulties in authentication and payments were identified as some of the roadblocks in the uptake of public Wi-Fi services from the user's point of view. Following that, Trai released another consultation note on this particular issue, released in November 2016, which proposed an authentication and payment architecture for public Wi-Fi networks and solicited the views of the stakeholders.

The regulator issued a recommendation to the government entitled “Proliferation of Broadband through Public Wi-Fi Networks” in March this year.

Trai said that Wi-Fi is a complementary, not competing technology to LTE. "Public hotspots hold an important place in the last-mile delivery of broadband to users. Wi-Fi is much easier to scale than adding new LTE towers. It bolsters connectivity inside buildings, airports, etc. where LTE penetration is inherently limited. It allows for offloading from telecom networks to ease congestion, and will be crucial when the next billion IoT devices come online," it added.

According to the regulator, there are only 31,000 public Wi-Fi hotspots in India, compared to 13 million in France, and 10 million in the United States of America.

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