To accelerate its attempt to provide Internet to underserved sections, social networking behemoth Facebook will be aggressively rolling out its Express Wi-Fi services in coming six months.
Express Wi-Fi, which was started in May last year in India, partners with entrepreneurs to help them set up public WiFi hotspots and helping them provide internet to a lot of citizens in poor or no connectivity areas.
It also plans to launch three products, according to the Ken report. First product would be based on a retail model, where users will be allowed to recharge through coupons, to be available in duration ranging from daily to monthly according to the need, at local medical and fruit shops. Recharge pack prices would range from Rs 10 to Rs 1999.
Second, a home Wi-Fi product, which allows subscribers to tap into the Express Wi-Fi network without a router. Third, a product for businesses such as cafes and malls.
Now, Facebook aims to be an aggregator of local networks and internet service providers (ISPs).
It has tied up with ISPs such as Tikona in Gujarat, LMES in Rajasthan, AirJaldi in Uttarakhand, Shaildhar in Meghalaya and Netvision in Uttar Pradesh. In fact, Tikona is the only provider which is live on Express WiFi in India. Facebook claims to have 1,000 hotspots live at the moment.
Facebook had also collaborated with Airtel and BSNL for more hotspots and spectrum bandwidth.
Through this project, Facebook eyes to expand its organic reach. Besides, it also sees Express WiFi as an advertisement revenue earner for the company. Currently, Facebook garners 97 per cent of revenue through the ad.
On the competition front, this won’t be an easy road for Facebook. Google is already halfway through its wi-fi project touching 400 railway stations across India.
That’s not all. It will face fiercer competition from Government backed wi-fi project.
TRAI, in July 2017, had kicked off public wi-fi system called Wi-Fi Access Network Interface (Wani). The govt backed project also aims to use the Aadhaar Know-Your-Customer (KYC) to access the system and the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) to pay for the Wi-Fi.
This is not Facebook first attempt. TRAI had struck down Facebook’s last scheme, Free Basics in India, that aimed to connect the unconnected Indians on the grounds of net neutrality. Net neutrality regulation ensures that all ISPs charge customers the same price for accessing all websites and services.
Will it make its own legacy or become part of govt-led Wani? This will primarily depend on how good response Express Wi-Fi gets from people.
Globally, Express Wi-Fi initiative is live in Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, and Indonesia.