Facebook Express Wi-Fi service is in the news again in India with reports saying the social media giant has started testing the service. Express Wi-Fi service is nothing new from the company; IndianExpress.com had first reported in 2015 how the service was being tested in rural India. This was also around the time Facebook’s Free Basics program was also facing criticism in India over the issue of Net Neutrality.
So how does Facebook’s Express Wi-Fi work? For starters this is not a free Wi-Fi service like say Google’s WiFi at the Railway Station. As Munish Seth, Country Manager-Connectivity Solutions India region had explained to us, the company is using the old cable operator model to get Express Wi-Fi working. Facebook works with the local entrepreneur with technology, business solutions and marketing to bring WiFi to areas where connectivity is scarce.
This model is implemented in over a 100 villages across India, and users have to come to a community area to access the Internet. Facebook has created the commercially available Wi-Fi access point technology with their software. A local entrepreneur can help users electronically buy Internet usage for as low as Rs 10.
Facebook’s target with this is entry-level phones and there are no restrictions on what websites can be accessed on this Wi-Fi network. Facebook is only creating the Wi-Fi access point for users, it still uses local Internet service providers for the data. Essentially Facebook’s technology helps with the last mile connectivity where it is not available.
Facebook’s Express Wi-Fi project has been in the works for well over a year. Earlier reports also claimed this might be coming to railway stations, but it seems unlikely. Google has partnered with RailTel, which controls all the fibre optic networks across railway stations in India. This network is what powers Google’s free Wi-Fi.
As we had pointed out earlier, Facebook is just the technology enabler when it comes to Express Wi-Fi. It should be noted that Express Wi-Fi is part of Facebook’s larger Internet.org mission, which aims to bring internet connectivity across the world, especially in areas where it has not been possible. Free Basics was also part of this Internet.org mission. Facebook has also been testing Express Wi-Fi in other parts of the world.