Cabinet approves setting up of public Wi-Fi networks across India

To ensure seamless digital connectivity at affordable rates, the Union government on Wednesday approved a proposal to set up public Wi-Fi networks across the country, which will be called PM Wi-Fi Access Network Interface, or PM-WANI.

“The Cabinet has taken a decision to launch PM Wi-Fi Access Network Interface to unleash a massive network in the country. Public data centres will be opened in the country. There will be no licence, fee or registration for it,” Information Technology & Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters on Wednesday.

The networks will be set up through public data offices (PDOs) that will establish, maintain, and operate WANI-compliant Wi-Fi Access Points, a government release said. Public data office aggregators (PDOAs) will look after authorisation work and accounting of PDOs. App providers will also be part of this ecosystem, and will help in registering users and aid them in discovering nearby WANI-compliant Wi-Fi hotspots.

There will also be a central registry that will maintain details of app providers, PDOAs, and PDOs. To begin with, the Central Registry will be maintained by the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DoT), the release said.

The aggregators will provide services utilising telecom companies’ optical fibre network. This model can be a revenue stream for firms likes BSNL and would mean optimum use of optical fibre infrastructure, experts believe. They feel these networks would do to broadband services what the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) did to digital payments.

“It will create millions of inter-operable Wi-Fi hotspots in the country and democratise content distribution and broadband access to millions at affordable rates. This will be the UPI of connectivity services,” tweeted R S Sharma, former chairman of the Trai.

Senior advocate Vivek Sood said the government’s entry will supplement private players like Reliance Jio, Airtel, and Vodafone Idea. “Expansion of Wi-Fi network will empower the rural citizen to exercise his free speech more effectively, apart from enhancing his right to enter e-commerce as a player and consumer. It has far reaching implications from a constitutional perspective,” he said.

The Union Cabinet also approved the provision of submarine optical fibre cable connectivity between the mainland Kochi and Lakshadweep Islands.

Digital drive

>Public Wi-Fi Access Network Interface (PM-WANI) to be operated by different players

>Public Data Office (PDO) will establish, maintain, and operate only WANI-compliant Wi-Fi access points and deliver broadband services to subscribers

>Public Data Office Aggregator (PDOA) will be an aggregator of PDOs and perform the functions relating to authorisation and accounting

>App provider will develop an app to register users and discover WANI-compliant Wi-Fi hotspots in the nearby areas and display the same in the app for accessing the internet

>Central registry will maintain the details of app providers, PDOAs, and PDOs

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