Grocery stores, restaurants, hotels, and other places in urban as well as rural areas could soon become public Wi-Fi hotspots as part of the Prime Minister Wi-Fi Access Network Interface (PM Wani) project, creating an ecosystem for jobs in information technology (IT) and telecom.
Industry experts said the project, with its need to set up massive Wi-Fi networks, access points, and an application that would allow paid Wi-Fi access, will create job opportunities for engineers to support the IT and telecom network, app developers, and cybersecurity professionals. Those who can operate data centers, administer cloud servers and storage may also be in demand.
“Telecom OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) will require additional network engineers to address this surge. You will also need many IT Infra support engineers, app developers, app maintenance engineers and not to forget cybersecurity professionals as this opens up huge cyber risk,” said Sunil C., head of specialized staffing, TeamLease Digital.
Under the PM Wani program, any entity with physical space—Kirana stores, restaurants, pan shops, tea stalls, and hotels—can operate a Wi-Fi hotspot.
The project has been under deliberation since March 2017 when the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) first proposed expanding broadband services by setting up public Wi-Fi networks. The cabinet gave its approval on 9 December amid rising demand for wireless data as millions took to working from home.
“While during the last decade, the proliferation of public Wi-Fi hotspots registered an exponential growth elsewhere, in India we have an insignificant number of public Wi-Fi hotspots,” Trai said.
According to Cisco’s Annual Internet Report (2018-23), the world will have 628 million public Wi-Fi hotspots by 2023, up from 169 million in 2018. By 2023, Asia Pacific will have the highest share of global public Wi-Fi hotspots at 46%. Trai said that going by this projection, India should have at least 100 million public Wi-Fi hotspots by 2023, given the size of its telecom market, which has one-sixth of the world’s users.
Besides the massive infrastructure that public Wi-Fi networks require, they are prone to cybersecurity risks, said Sunil C. “In 2017, WannaCry—a ransomware cyberattack—spread, but Google and RailTel’s RailWire Wi-Fi networks were perhaps the worst hit ISPs (internet service providers) in India.”
Broadband India Forum (BIF), a policy think tank that has favored allowing unlicensed entities to deliver Wi-Fi, has welcomed the cabinet’s move. BIF president T.V. Ramachandran said the project “will lead to explosive growth in business and employment opportunities, especially in rural areas.”