“More hotspots please”: discussing the next big initiative in India

On Habré we are discussing US network infrastructure, features European internet providers and even follow the development of communication lines in India. The government of the latter seems to have again made loud statements and proposed a new initiative.

Unsplash / Ashish Sangai
Unsplash / Ashish Sangai

Context of the question

In the summer, the Prime Minister of India announced a plan according to which, in just a thousand days, optical fiber should be laid in every village in the country. In total, we are talking about connecting 650 thousand settlements to high-speed communication lines, including on the islands.

However, ambitious plans can be hindered by both tight deadlines and exorbitant costs for consumables, and trivial difficulties with maintaining the existing infrastructure in working order. The fact is that fiber-optic cables are simply gnawed by monkeys, and the underground option is not always used due to dense buildings.

An equally common reason for the lack of communication in remote corners of the country is the regular breaks of power lines. Therefore, over the past five years, the number of villages with stable and high-speed access to the network has increased not several times, but only by a few percent.

What is it this time

Exclamations from skeptics doubting the current plan did not stop officials. Just a couple of weeks ago, it became known about a new initiative. Now the government offers to take advantage of the experience of the large-scale installation of telephones in the country, carried out in the 1980s.

Unsplash / Raj Rana
Unsplash / Raj Rana

Then almost in every city in India, booths were installed and special centers were opened for those who would like to make a call. These are the locations of the Ministry of Information Technology and plans convert into so-called data offices (Public Data Office, PDO). PM WANI (Prime Minister Wi-Fi Access Network Interface) and other infrastructure will be deployed there, including taking into account the summer plan for the development of fiber-optic communication lines.

The authorities speculate that a large-scale “hot spot reform” should significantly boost employment and entrepreneurial activity across the country.

Minute of criticism

Not everyone agrees that a truly ambitious undertaking by the government can be called timely. there is opinionthat something like this should have been done seven or eight years ago. Now most of the tasks assigned to PM WANI are solved by the mobile Internet. In India, one can easily find success stories in this niche – for example, the Jio Platforms telecom case, which became the largest in the country in just four years due to affordable tariffs. In November, the government gave the green light Google, which in the summer announced its intention to invest $ 4.5 billion in the shares of this particular provider.

Interestingly, in February, the corporation closed Google station – a program in which four hundred railway stations and many public places were equipped with free Wi-Fi hotspots. Citing an increase in the availability of mobile Internet connections, the hotspots were turned off on September 30 – almost exactly one month before the approval of investments in Jio Platforms. Time will tell whether this case can be considered a good coincidence or a new level of cooperation.

Whether the authorities will be able to implement two large-scale “construction projects” – high-speed communication lines and public data offices with Wi-Fi – is a big question. The goals are indeed set ambitious, but local ministries and telecom companies should not be written off either.

Unsplash / Paul Hanaoka
Unsplash / Paul Hanaoka

RailTel alone today serves more than 5,500 railway stations and continues to roll out free Wi-Fi on its own technology stack in new locations. By the way, the same 400-plus points that Google left, these companies provided hot spots together. However, RailTel now takes over the entire burden.

It remains only to observe and guess how this story will end and how the events around the Internet industry in India, local providers and telecoms will unfold.

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