India's telecom regulator TRAI is all set to bring an internet data revolution in the country, the same way it brought a telecom revolution decades ago with the advent of public calling offices (PCOs). The regulator is currently inviting companies, hardware/software providers and app providers to be a part of its pilot project of public Wi-Fi hotspots, being dubbed as Public Data Offices (PDOs) after PCOs. Akin to PCOs, PDOs will allow public to access ‘sachet sized’ data packs on to go. According to the initial plan, TRAI plans to price these data packs between Rs.2 and Rs.20 so as to make it affordable to as many as people as possible.

With this initiative, TRAI aims to establish an open architecture based Wi-Fi Access Network Interface (WANI) in the Indian subcontinent, which will allow Indians access to sachet sized data packs by doing a one-time enrolment into the service through KYC and mobile one time password.

The broad objective of the plan is to have multiple hotspots available for the public to use across the South Asian country so as to ensure that each citizen of the country gets an opportunity to explore the benefits of internet and use it for their progress. TRAI is also hopeful that the initiative will take some pressure off from existing telecom networks in the country given the current situation that allows them to have only a limited number of towers or routers at every locality, just enough to support the growing data usage owing to ongoing low cost tariffs battle among the telecoms.

According to TRAI, the hotspot plan will give birth to new internet customers in India and give a big boost to the existing consumption of data by price-sensitive customers who till now had to ration their cellular data usage due to high data packs prices. TRAI has asked the participants to lock in their details by July 25, 2017.

The pilot hotspot project, which will help TRAI in identifying the positives and problem areas before national proliferation of such hotspots in the country, will significantly help in increasing India's total number of hotspots from the current 31,000 figure. When compared to the 10 million figure in the US and 13 million figure in France, the 31,000 hotspots gives us an idea of how far behind India is when it comes to internet proliferation.

With the hotspot project, TRAI is hoping to provide Indian users with a simplified, consistent experience across hotspots from various providers. This translates to unbundling authentication, payment and accounting from hardware and software running on the access point. According to experts, public Wi-Fi hotspots will be of great help to small entrepreneurs in the country as it will allow them to set up and maintain access points whereas device manufacturers, payment companies, internet and telecom service providers and consumer internet companies will be responsible for putting together the remaining elements required to set up PDOs.

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