The government is planning to roll out free wi-fi service in as many as 2,500 cities and towns across the country over the next three years.
The programme, estimated to cost Rs 7,000 crore, will be implemented by state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL). BSNL will offer the service to subscribers of all mobile operators in a bid to boost its data revenue and address the Digital India mission of the BJP-led NDA Government.
The free ride, however, will be only for a limited time, according to a report appearing in The Times of India, after which one will have to pay for further access, a model similar to what is being offered at airports and other places by private operators. For those having a BSNL or MTNL connection, the switch-over to wi-fi will be similar to roaming “at very nominal costs” once the free usage is over.
Major cities like Kolkata, Chennai, Lucknow, Dehradun, Hyderabad, Varanasi, Bhopal, Jaipur, Patna, Indore, Chandigarh and Ludhiana are envisaged to be part of the free wi-fi programme.
BSNL Chairman and Managing Director Anupam Shrivastava said the services will begin in the next financial year (2015-16).
The measure seems to be in line with the Modi government’s ambitious ‘Digital India’ programme that aims at boosting internet connectivity across the country. Also, it is being seen as a measure that will give a boost to struggling BSNL, which has been in the red for the last nearly four financial years and suffered a loss of about Rs 7,000 crore in 2013-14. Telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has already listed revival of BSNL and MTNL, among his top priorities.
According to the BSNL CMD, the wi-fi speed will be of 4G level, as the company will develop it around its vast optic fibre and cable network. “Around 50,000-60,000 wi-fi hotspots will be set up as part of the programme.”
BSNL is hoping that a favourable tariff plan offered for wi-fi services will help it gain mobile subscribers. Stiff competition from private operators and slow pace of infrastructure upgrades have seen flight of mobile customers from BSNL at a time when its landline base is also shrinking.