By Kriti Sharma
Social networking giant Facebook has finally launched its ambitious Express Wi-Fi project in the Indian subcontinent. The service that lets users to avail internet by logging on to Wi-Fi networks being hosted by local partners, for a small fee can drastically help improve India’s internet situation. According to the most recent statistics available, India currently has just about 450-465 million internet users in a huge population of over 1.311 billion (2015).
The launch comes just months after we reported that the Mark Zuckerberg led company had been secretly testing the service in over a 100 rural villages all across India since 2015, where the users had to come to a particular community area in order to access the internet. The project is currently live across nearly 700 hotspots in four Indian states of Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Meghalaya and Gujarat. In order to avail the service, all that the users have to do is purchase physical or online vouchers that will cost them anywhere between Rs. 10-20 for a day or Rs. 200-300 for a month, and are easily available in about 500 brick-and-mortar stores in the aforementioned states.
The Express Wi-Fi project is an integral part of Facebook’s much talked about Internet.org mission through which the social networking giant is aiming to bring internet connectivity across the whole wide world, especially in the rural pockets.
Why haven’t you heard about this before?
One of the interesting things about the project’s launch in India is, unlike any other project or product launch by Facebook, the company has maintained a very silent demure about the whole launch. It can be understood that Facebook decided to keep it this way after a very public failure of its Free Basics program, which entailed granting people in India access to the web free of cost but came with a few strings attached. The program was ultimately banned by India’s Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) last year for violating the principles of net neutrality.
India, which currently has about 166 million Monthly Active Facebook Users (MAUs) out of the 450-465 million people currently accessing internet in the country presents a very promising opportunity for the company with 2 billion worldwide users. The company, which has the second largest user-base in India, is targeting entry-level phones with this project. It is important to note that Facebook is just creating Wi-Fi access points for users wanting to access the net, and it still makes use of local Internet service providers for the data. So, Facebook’s technology provides a helping hand in providing last mile connectivity where it is not yet available. To make it simpler to understand, the social networking giant is just acting as a technology enabler when it comes to Express Wi-Fi project.
Prior to India, Facebook has already successfully launched its Express Wi-Fi project in Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria and Indonesia. The company plans to increase the current 700 hotspots to 20,000 hotspots across the Indian subcontinent very soon, and has already entered into a partnership with telecom giant Airtel to make this possible.
The writer is a blogger for the Indian Web2.
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