Updated: August 25, 2016 3:40:56 pm
Facebook has for some time been working on a project called Express Wi-Fi to bring connectivity to rural India, but it is unlikely the project will end up in railway stations. Here is why.
To start with Google has a deal with the Indian Railways and RailTel to bring connectivity to 100 stations initially and maybe more in the future. Google has already connected over 23 stations using the RailTel’s networks, and its technology. Why would Facebook want to do the same?
In fact, Facebook’s Express Wi-Fi project has been in the works for well over a year. The idea here is to bring “affordable Internet” to communities. Facebook uses local Internet service providers for data but uses its own technology to take it to the last mile where connectivity is otherwise not available.
The key differentiator here is that Facebook’s Express Wi-Fi is not a free service like Google Wi-Fi. In an interaction late last year, Munish Seth, Country Manager-Connectivity Solutions India region, had explained that this was based on the old cable operator model. “We use commercially available Wi-Fi access point technology with software developed by us to help the local entrepreneur manage his customers and for the customers to electronically buy Internet usage for as low as Rs 10,” he had explained.
Interestingly, if Google is offering free Wi-Fi in the stations, it would be impractical for Facebook to offer paid Wi-Fi at least in the same stations. And since Google already has a head start, it would be covering all the popular stations leaving just the lower footfall ones for other players.
Also, Facebook is just a technology enabler when it comes to Express Wi-Fi. It will ultimately need an entrepreneur to make the service commercially viable in a village or railway station where the Express Wi-Fi has been enabled. No, there is no scope of Facebook selling its own Wi-Fi.
Even if someone is convinced the PCO model will work for Wi-Fi in stations, you will need Facebook to cover that location for them in the first place. And since the entire objective of Express Wi-Fi was to take connectivity to the dark spots, if at all, this will happen only in railway stations that have no connectivity at all. Those are hard to find to start with.
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