Facebook launches Express WiFi in India

Working in tandem with state-run and local internet service providers (ISPs) and entrepreneurs, Facebook will provide technological, infrastructural, and commercial assistance to bring internet connectivity to rural India.

Social media giant Facebook has partnered with country's largest telecom player Airtel to deploy 20,000 internet hotspots through Facebook's Express Wi-Fi service in India. As of now, the service is commercially available in four Indian states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Meghalaya and Uttarakhand.

The service is called "Express Wi-Fi" and is now live in five countries including India, Tanzania, Indonesia and Nigeria. It's unclear exactly how much its costs to use Express Wi-Fi, and Facebook's release says rates will be set by its partners. "They will then be able to connect to the Express Wi-Fi hotspot, register/create an account, login and start browsing or use any app on the entire internet", Seth explained. Unlike more futuristic projects like the Aquila drone, though, the emphasis here is on existing Wi-Fi technologies and allowing local entrepreneurs to resell internet access.

Unlike the company's failed "Free Basics" program, which enabled users to visit Facebook websites for free and was struck down by Indian courts for violating net neutrality, Express WiFi costs money.

He also said that "this will kill the need of owning 4G devices and that will be immensely helpful for India where 4G is catching up fast but has a long way to go before it becomes mainstream".

Under the Express WiFi system, Facebook has joined hands with local entrepreneurs who will sell these services through vouchers priced between 10-20 INR for a day to 200-300 INR for a month. Only about 400 million of its 1.3 billion people now have access to the internet. Ever since Reliance Jio has been launched in India the Internet consumption rate is steadily increasing further this has also made way for a fierce competition which has now forced the incumbent Telcos to offer more data at less price.

One year after Facebook had to pull out the infamous "Free Basics" programme, it is ready to roll out its "Express Wi-Fi" service in the country. "We believe this will help in empowering millions of Indians by bringing them online and contribute to the Government's Digital India vision", Ajai Puri, Chief Operating Officer (India & South Asia), Bharti Airtel said in a statement.

  • Carolyn Briggs