By: Riddhi Rohatgi
As a country of over a billion people and still growing, technological advancement is one of the most important aspects to consider. That, and how to build a technology which will benefit all the people of the country, even those in the most remote areas. Behind all of India’s innovations, this has been the mindset. Let’s take a look at PCOs. When landlines were a rare commodity and ‘smartphones’ was a term no one had heard of, PCOs multiplied, connecting the people of the country, and benefitting the small businessperson.
In five years, from 2015 to 2020, internet subscribers in India more than doubled (from 302 million to 750 million) making it the fastest growing country in terms of internet users. But just because the utility has increased does not mean that the quality of the access is good. Most Indian citizens do not have access to Wi-Fi technology and other internet subscribers may or may not have high speed data. And this isn’t just a problem that is limited to the rural sections of the country-- even in metro towns, this problem persists. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has made it clear that high speed internet access is needed more than anything in the current scenario. It is a responsibility of the government to provide a resilient and dependent connection to its citizens. This not only connects people on a global scale, but also helps educate many young Indians who may not be able to access higher education due to various reasons.
The aim of the Pradhan Mantri Wireless Fidelity Access Network Interface (PM-WANI) is exactly this. The Union Cabinet approved the setting up of public Wi-Fi networks across the country. On December 9, 2020 at 21:44, the Prime Minister tweeted the following:
Historic PM-WANI (Wi-Fi Access Network Interface) scheme that
has been cleared by the Cabinet today will revolutionise
the tech world and significantly improve WiFi
availability across the length and breath of India.
It will further ‘Ease of Doing Business’ and ‘Ease of Living.’
~@narendramodi on Twitter
The following are some of the fundamental features of the PM-WANI scheme:
Public Data Offices (PDOs) – These are comparable to cybercafés. The office will set up, sustain and lead the Wi-Fi access locations and provide data to the consumers from an ISP (Internet Service Provider). No license will be issued to these PDOs, only a simple registration will be put in place. These could be owned by a kirana or paan shop owner or a tea vendor or practically anyone else. This will entirely democratize the existing internet provision system.
PDO Aggregators (PDOAs) – These will authorize and account for all of the PDOs keeping tabs on them.
App Developer(s) – This group of people will be responsible for developing the app that will allow people to locate the nearby PDOs. This app will be available on both the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store.
Central Registry – This body will maintain the details relating to all the components of the PM-WANI provision, i.e., the PDOs, PDOAs and the app developers. This registry will be the responsibility of the C-DoT (Centre for Development of Telematics).
A customer may be allowed access only after an eKYC (electronic Know Your Customer) authentication. A KYC helps the authorities to identify and verify the users immediately maintaining the safety standards of the digital world. ISPs are regulated for this very reason. If a network connection has an open endpoint, it can be used for vindictive purposes. Public Wi-Fi in various countries has been used by some actors for harassment, stalking, bomb scares, and even death threats. People using public Wi-Fi cannot easily be tracked and some people take undue advantage of this fact. The KYC will help keep track of the users of these public data spots.
The internet packages which the consumer will access could either be charged on a per minute or per hour basis by the PDOs. Even international travelers in the country would be able to take advantage of this facility and not have to pay outrageous prices to their home networks for the roaming charges.
The three pillars of PM-WANI are:- Access, Authorization, and Accounting. But unless this plan is executed well, doing all that it was passed to do, it’s merely a great and exciting idea on paper, not doing any actual good.
Pros and Cons of PM-WANI
Brings about a Wi-Fi revolution in India.
Enhances the Quality of Life.
Makes business transactions easier.
It will create employment and enhance the incomes of small and medium businesspeople.
Fastracks India’s path to digitalization.
Boosts India’s GDP.
Safety and Security measures.
Clash with Mobile Telecom firms.
Ensuring a free market.
It is clear that the pros outweigh the cons. According to The Indian Express, “Comparing WANI to other public Wi-Fi schemes would be akin to saying that the automobile was just a faster horse,” making clear their stance on how important this project really is.
There are various concerns that may arise, both from the users, as well as from the critics and software analysts. The most pressing issue will be data privacy. A user will be connecting to an unknown wireless network, exposing their devices to a prospective hack. In this day and age, data theft is more common than anything else, but it is something we barely even think about. Another point worth mentioning here is the capability of the app to handle the footfall. The population of our country is huge and possibly millions of people every day will be using the app to help them find a suitable PDO. If the app crashes in such a situation, people could be negatively impacted.
Another question asked would be that since there is no license or registration fee for the PDOs, how would the Central Registry make sure that the Office is doing the work it was set up to do and isn’t merely a front for other shady organizations. The solution isn’t ours to figure out but the governments’ to implement. The most promising way for them would be to break down the problem into pieces, get to the bottom of it, and then ascertain the solutions.
In conclusion, the Pradhan Mantri Wireless Fidelity Access Network Interface is a technology that must be used for the betterment of the people and not merely to increase the income of selected individuals. In the right hands, this will truly revolutionize the face of Digital India.
PTI. PM-WANI will revolutionise tech world: Modi. The Times of India. Published December 9, 2020. Accessed December 18, 2020. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/pm-wani-will-revolutionise-tech-world-modi/articleshow/79648865.cms
Mohul Ghosh. India’s Biggest Wi-Fi Push: 1 Crore Wi-Fi Data Centres Will Be Created, No License Needed To Start. Trak.in - Indian Business of Tech, Mobile & Startups. Published December 10, 2020. Accessed December 19, 2020. https://trak.in/tags/business/2020/12/10/indias-biggest-wifi-push-1-crore-wifi-data-centres-will-be-created-no-license-needed-to-start/
Ram Sewak Sharma. PM-WANI has the potential to revolutionise the way India accesses the internet. The Indian Express. Published December 16, 2020. Accessed December 19, 2020.
ENS Economic Bureau. Cabinet approves setting up of public Wi-Fi networks under ‘PM-WANI.’ The Indian Express. Published December 9, 2020. Accessed December 19, 2020.
PM WANI Scheme | IASbaba. IASbaba. Published December 12, 2020. Accessed December 19, 2020.
India.com News Desk. PM-WANI Wi-Fi: All You Need to Know About India’s Plan to Bring Free Internet to Every Doorstep. India News, Breaking News, Entertainment News | India.com. Published December 11, 2020. Accessed December 19, 2020. https://www.india.com/technology/pm-wani-wifi-internet-access-details-free-online-access-students-internet-how-and-where-4260763/
Times Now Digital. EXPLAINED: PM-WANI and how it can change the way Indians access the internet. @TIMESNOW. Published December 16, 2020. Accessed December 19, 2020.
What is eKYC and why it is the future of Know Your Customer? What is eKYC and why it is the future of Know Your Customer? Published 2020. Accessed December 19, 2020.