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The Government of India’s Department of Telecom (DoT) is looking to invite tenders for setting up WiFi hubs in village panchayats to bolster Internet connectivity across the country. As per reports, the $568.8 Mn project is slated for completion by 2019.

As part of the initiative, the Indian government is preparing to launch broadband services with high speed of around 1000 megabit per second (1 Gbps) in nearly 100K gram panchayats by the end of 2017.

Commenting on the development, a DoT official requesting anonymity stated, “The tender details will be finalised this week. It will be issued immediately. The plan is to roll out WiFi service in 100K gram panchayats (GPs) in a year and in the rest by 2019.”

The new development is part of the government’s ambitious BharatNet project, which aims to bring Internet connectivity to all of the country’s 250K gram panchayats by March 2019. This comes just three months after the government gave its nod for the second phase of BharatNet.

The first phase of the programme, involving the rollout of broadband services in 100K gram panchayats, was completed in July this year. The Cabinet had originally sanctioned a total budget of $6.4 Bn (INR 42,068 Cr) for the programme. Of this, $2.8 Bn (INR 18,792 Cr) was allocated for the second phase.

According to sources, these initiatives are in line with the government’s new telecom policy that plans to increase Internet access to 700 Mn people, from the current 300 Mn, by 2022.

Building A Robust WiFi Network To Enhance Internet Connectivity In India

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The country’s Internet-using population is undergoing phenomenal growth, due to increased availability of technologies like broadband, smartphones, tablets, and high-speed mobile data. According to a 2016 study by Groupe Speciale Mobile (GSM) Association, India’s mobile using population is expected to cross the 1 Bn mark by 2020.  According to a study by research firm IMRB International, the number of Internet users in India is currently around 450 Mn – 465 Mn, which is a 4%-8% increase from the reported 432 Mn in December 2016.

Until recently, high-speed Internet connectivity was expensive and remained exclusive to metros and a few big cities. The arrival of Jio’s nationwide network, however, has caused the number of India’s broadband subscribers to increase 52% in six months ending in February 2017.

As per TRAI data, over 89 Mn people in this group are coming online for the first time. In April 2017, Google’s  VP for Southeast Asia & India, Rajan Anandan, said that 9 out of every 10 new Internet users are non-English speakers. At present, rural users account for 35 percent of India’s Internet community.

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In May this year, Vodafone made headlines by launching its SuperWiFi Go service for businesses in the nation. As per sources, the SuperWiFi Go service is currently targeted at segments such as corporates, government, hospitality, education, BFSI, retail, restaurants, healthcare, and manufacturing.

Around the same time, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched three satellites with the aim of providing high-speed Internet in India. In the same month, Facebook too rolled out its Express WiFi Project in India, which will help empower local entrepreneurs to make a steady income by providing quality Internet access to neighbours. Reportedly, Bharti Airtel has also joined in to help launch another 20,000 hotspots in the country.

Most recently, in July, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has announced plans to set up a hotspot WiFi network across the country. The aim of the project is to provide Internet connectivity at significantly cheaper rates than current mobile networks.

Along with all the above efforts, the government’s latest initiative to set up WiFi network across the country’s 250K gram panchayats serves as a much-needed push for increasing Internet connectivity in semi-urban and rural regions.

(The development was reported by ET)

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