Trai renews Wi-Fi hotspots proposal with new pilot study

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has revived its earlier proposal for allowing data resale, which has been pending with the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) for over a year in a move that would help in the spread of public Wi-Fi hotspots.

The telecom regulator on Thursday again proposed the concept of Public Data Office providers (PDOs), much like public call offices (PCOs) of yesteryears, to enhance Wi-Fi connectivity, and perhaps look at cutting internet costs by up to 90 per cent. The proposal was reportedly first made in March last year.
Trai on Thursday recommended an ambitious model of a public Wi-Fi grid that also aims to push broadband proliferation in the country. Ruing that India significantly trails other nations in providing access to broadband, especially in rural areas, Trai has underscored the need for ushering a new set of small players to provide Wi-Fi service.
According to Trai, the products available for consumption should begin from 'sachet sized', or as low as Rs2.
The grid or the mesh, conceptualised by Trai and forwarded to the DoT, entails multiple providers coming together on one platform to address aspects like access, services, payment, and authentication.
"Broadband proliferation across the country is an important pillar of Digital India. Wi-Fi is the cheapest option, given low cost of equipment and free spectrum," Trai chairman R S Sharma said.
PDOs will be companies, or even small merchants, interested in providing Wi-Fi hotspots to public using either free or paid model.
The Trai chairman presented a report on 'public Wi-Fi open pilot project' to communications minister Manoj Sinha, outlining the success of the first phase of trials it had conducted.
Business Standard reports that Trai had suggested on 9 March last year that small entrepreneurs or shop-owners could work as PDOs to offer Wi-Fi service and for that data resale should be allowed.
“The Authority is well aware of the fact that introduction of PDO along with an aggregator would entail resale of data services as is already allowed in the case of a cyber cafe model. Further, the Authority is of the view that this is the best way to achieve proliferation of Wi-Fi systems in the country,” Trai had said in the recommendations.
According to Trai, such a model would address the shortcomings of cyber cafes, and address concerns relating to public Wi-Fi such as authentication, payments and authorisation.
Currently, data resale is not allowed and telecom operators or internet service providers, in partnership with technology companies, run most Wi-Fi hot spots.
There are about 35,000 Wi-Fi hot spots in the country, most of them located at airports, hotels, or malls. Various outlets also offer complementary access to Wi-Fi, like Café Coffee Day or Barista.
The model would be of great help in bridging the digital divide in rural areas where broadband penetration is very low.
“The success of the pilot can be gauged from the fact that 96.3 per cent of the persons found the system user friendly. 3.7 per cent of the persons believed that there is still a scope of improvement,” Trai said in its report to the minister. Trai added there had been increasing demand from individuals and organisations that high-speed uninterrupted data service should be available at an affordable rate.
Owing to increased mobile data overload, meeting users’ demands is often compromised on account of unwanted network latency and congestion.
A widespread network of public Wi-Fi hot spots could improve this situation as a complementary service. “Public Wi-Fi services can enable mobile data to be dynamically offloaded/shared to ensure continuous connectivity along with desired quality of service (QoS),” Trai said.