PM-WANI’s potential to transform India’s digital public infrastructure

By Amigos IAS

Why is it in the news?

  • According to experts, PM-WANI (Prime Minister WiFi Access Network Interface) will gain momentum similar to UPI and other Digital Public Infrastructures being developed in India.

More about the news

  • India’s Digital India Program aimed to address three main vision areas: connectivity, software and services on demand, and digital empowerment of citizens.
  • Connectivity has seen significant improvements, including mobile telephony, 4G coverage, reduced tariffs, and increased smartphone penetration.
  • Policies like Net Neutrality and the focus on Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI), including Digital ID and UPI, have contributed to the growth of digital transactions. However, there is still a gap between demand and affordable data supply, especially in rural areas.
  • The concept of creating inter-operable public Wi-Fi hotspots, similar to PCOs, was proposed by TRAI in 2017.
    • It envisioned creating millions of Wi-Fi hotspots known as Public Data Offices (PDOs) to provide last-mile distribution of broadband in affordable packages.
  • PM-WANI, approved in December 2020, transformed this idea, allowing operations without the need for licenses or permits.
    • Start-ups and operators known as Public Data Office Aggregators (PDOAs) began implementing the concept.
  • PM-WANI creates an open and scalable framework involving PDOs, PDOAs, app providers, and a central registry.
    • It’s expected to become a unique Digital Public Infrastructure for connectivity, similar to how UPI transformed the financial space.
  • This framework presents a compelling business opportunity for aggregators, eliminating the need for additional licensing fees and enabling affordable internet access, especially in underserved areas.
  • PM-WANI supports the growth of local nano entrepreneurs, such as small shops and households, who become last-mile providers, earning extra income and promoting internet usage.
  • While existing infrastructure by major companies like RailTel and GAIL exists, it remains underutilized.
    • PM-WANI offers an opportunity for this framework to thrive and benefits ISPs and Telcos by expanding bandwidth sales through end customers.
PM-WANI (Prime Minister WiFi Access Network Interface) Scheme
  • Administered by the Department of Telecom (DoT), Ministry of Communications.
  • Initially recommended by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in 2017.
  • Aims to provide public Wi-Fi services through Public Data Offices (PDOs) across India.
  • Public Wi-Fi Networks set up by Public Data Office Aggregators (PDOAs).
  • No license, registration, or fees required for PDOs.
  • PM-WANI ecosystem involves various players, including PDOs, PDOAs, App Providers, and a Central Registry.
  • PDOs can provide internet themselves or lease from other Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
  • Central registry managed by the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DoT).
  • App developer to create a platform for users to discover WANI-compliant Wi-Fi hotspots.
  • Expands internet access, strengthens Digital India, reaches rural areas, and offers a low-cost alternative to 5G.
  • Challenges includes security risks, lack of supporting infrastructure, low network speed, Right of Way (RoW) issues.

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