Facebook has big plans for Indian WiFi, but they are not alone
There are over a billion reasons why the likes of Facebook and Google are so interested in India. India is the world’s second largest country by population, mobile subscriptions and Internet users. Indian WiFi has taken center stage at these meg-giants push into internet access.
After Facebook’s well documented flop with Free Basics (here & here), the social media empire is striking back. Tracing Google’s steps, Facebook is looking to hook up with Indian Railways to provide WiFi across railway stations. RK Bahuguna, chairman of Indian Railways’ communications arm RailTel, said the company will start talks with Facebook for expanding its Indian WiFi coverage not only to railway stations but to villages in the vicinity as well.
“Facebook India has approached us for the WiFi initiative. We will engage with the company for the expansion of our Internet access program across railways stations to cover villages in the vicinity,” Bahuguna told ET.
But unlike the existing Google-backed plan, RailTel wants to take the Internet to smaller rail stops, making it available to neighboring villages via additional access points. Under the Google-RailTel Internet program, nearly 2 million people access free WiFi every month across 21 railway stations.
Facebook can’t afford to ignore India, especially when the country is witnessing an exploded adoption of the Internet and Smartphone. It is also one of the biggest growth markets for almost every company in the world nowadays. With more than 1.07 billion mobile subscriptions and 462 million internet users, the country is by far one of the largest markets. Of 1.3 billion people, only 17% use smartphone and just 35% use the Internet. Industry analysts predict that by 2020, India will have 700 million internet users and 702 million smartphone users, who will be accounting for 85% of mobile data traffic.
With such a massive growth, India has the largest window of opportunity for a company, and no one would like to miss the bus. In the last few quarters, the growth in Facebook’s user base is driven by Asia-Pacific – mostly by India – and the company foresee India as the top most performing market by revenue in the next few years.