US social networking major Facebook has partnered Indian government owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) to create 100 Wi-Fi hotspots in rural India to drive digital penetration in the country.
Facebook is investing Rs 5 crore per annum for buying bandwidth from BSNL in this joint initiative that also includes IT infrastructure services providers such as Quad Zen and Trimax for equipment and fiber deployment, BSNL chairman and managing director Anupam Shrivastava
“Facebook has chosen 100 villages to provide Wi-Fi hotspots on a revenue sharing model,” Shrivastava said, adding it will spend Rs 5 lakh per site a year for buying bandwidth from BSNL for a period of three years.
Nearly 25 villages have been covered under the pilot programme in southern and western India so far and the project is likely to be scaled up and extended from a current three-year partnership, by another two years. “We are aiming to complete the Wi-Fi rollout by December 31 this year,” Shrivastava said, adding that consumers can get free Internet connectivity for the first half an hour. The Wi-Fi network has a capacity to allow an average of 2,000 individuals to latch on the same time.
“Qaud Zen will be responsible for equipment sourcing and sales and marketing initiatives for the south-west region while Trimax has been roped in for the northern region in an open process”. The BSNL top executive said.
Shrivastava’s comments came at a time when Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has been visiting India, where he has highlighted the country’s importance in the company’s mission to connect the next billion to the Internet. BSNL, on its part, is optimistic about its Wi-Fi initiatives and has rolled out 450 hotspots with a focus on pan-India tourist spots, and aims to set up a total of 2,500 Wi-Fi hotspots by the end of current fiscal year through March 2016. “We are focusing on Wi-Fi hotspots in line with the government strategy of Digital India”. Shrivastava said.