TRAI mulls partnership models between shop owners, cafes & ISPs for WiFi

Small shops, cafe and mall owners, telcos, Internet Service Providers, payment gateways, and even communities could step in and “divide the cost” of operating a WiFi hotspot, India’s telecom regulator TRAI suggested in a consultation paper (pdf) titled “Model for Nation-wide Interoperable and Scalable Public Wi-Fi Networks. The regulator also examined some partnership models between these entities to help speed up adoption of Public WiFi networks.

TRAI said that the cost of installing WiFi networks can be “unbundled” between several entities by:

-Allowing Shop, café, and mall owners (venues) to setup physical WiFi access points and other connectivity related hardware.
-Letting telcos/ISPs to re-sell Internet bandwidth wherein costs will be borne by the venue owner.
-Allowing third parties or even apps to run advertisement and promotions on local WiFi networks to help venue owners to monetize via their WiFi service.
-Integrating payment solution providers and payment gateways within the WiFi networks for faster authentication

Possible partnership models suggested by TRAI

These entities can then work on a collaborative approach for deploying Public WiFi networks, according to the regulator. These include

  • Maintenance free model: Telcos and ISPs could encourage small shop owners, small communities and entrepreneurs to buy WiFi hardware systems bundled with bandwidth. The final maintenance and installation cost is borne by the telco or the bandwidth provider.
  • Co-investment model: Since smaller shops and cafes won’t be able to buy spectrum and deploy their own WiFi networks, ISPs/telcos can partner with these owners providing Internet bandwidth and share revenue. TRAI also suggests that third-party advertisers and content providers can run ads on the local WiFi network to generate revenue.
  • Monetization through locally stored content: TRAI says that a Wi-Fi access points can store content locally within a hard drive and provide this content on-demand to users without connecting to the Internet. Content providers can build monetization models with their content through partnerships with private WiFi operators.
  • Third party WiFi service providers: Third party Wi-Fi providers like Ozone Networks  can partner with multiple mobile operators and ISPs for bandwidth. They could further install WiFi hotspots at different venues while allowing the end user to authenticate and connect with any telco/ISP in the backhaul.
  • Do-It-Yourself model: Individuals and small shop owners can put up DIY Wi-Fi access points “much like HAM radio operators,” TRAI suggested. This literally means that owners can buy Internet subscription from an ISP and share this bandwidth with the end user.

Why TRAI has issued this consultation

 Public WiFi hotspots could help bring in more users to the Internet, especially because connectivity cost is cheaper for the end user when compared to buying data from mobile operators or via broadband services. Other than this, TRAI has provided 4 different use cases for public WiFi:

  1. Providing better connectivity within buildings where telecom network penetration is low or below standard.
  2. Allowing telcos to offload their data via WiFi hotspots which subsequently free up bandwidth in the network.
  3. Providing connectivity to areas where broadband and telecom networks can’t penetrate easily.
  4. Allow app developers and content providers to monetize via WiFi networks through promotions and advertisements.

Some barriers to adoption of WiFi networks according to the TRAI include:

-Existing cellular networks and wired networks have difficulty penetrating all areas in the country due to Right of Way challenges and spectrum scarcity in some areas.
-Authentication and payment issues like the mandatory need for One Time Password every time a user connects to different WiFi network. This could affect how foreigners and tourists log on the network, TRAI pointed out.
-Payments networks and gateways are not interoperable between networks which could affect monetization via Public WiFi networks.
-Not all spectrum in the globally harmonized band for Wi-Fi has been released yet in India.

Unified payment network for WiFi

model-authentication-wifi

In case of payments and authentication, the regulator suggested creating a unified payment network that could allow users to either pre-pay or post-pay for connectivity with a single touch. It suggested use of the recently launched Unified Payment Interface (UPI), Aadhaar based eKYC registration, and standard login APIs that van be used by all WiFi service providers.

Questions for consultation

TRAI has issued the following questionnaire with this consultation, seeking response from telcos, individuals, and other stakeholders. Comments canbe forwarded to broadbandtrai@gmail.com by 25th November, 2016.

Q1. Is the architecture suggested in the consultation note for creating unified authentication and payment infrastructure will enable nationwide standard for authentication and payment interoperability?

Q2. Would you like to suggest any alternate model?

Q3. Can Public Wi-Fi access providers resell capacity and bandwidth to retail users? Is “light touch regulation” using methods such as “registration” instead of “licensing” preferred for them?

Q4. What should be the regulatory guidelines on “unbundling” Wi-Fi at access and backhaul level?

Q5. Whether reselling of bandwidth should be allowed to venue owners such as shop keepers through Wi-Fi at premise? In such a scenario please suggest the mechanism for security compliance.

Q6. What should be the guidelines regarding sharing of costs and revenue across all entities in the public Wi-Fi value chain? Is regulatory intervention required or it should be left to forbearance and individual contracting?