India is one of the fastest-growing internet markets in the world and the growth has been accelerating. Between 2015 and now, India’s internet user base has grown from 302 million internet subscribers to 750 million. Over the past few years, we have witnessed the rise of Digital India and the concentrated steps taken by the government to deliver reliable and resilient internet access to every part of the nation are driving that movement. The recently launched PM-WANI initiative is another such effort that promises to take the Digital India vision further and eliminate data inequities.

PM-WANI (Prime Minister Wi-Fi Access Network Interface) is a bid to increase broadband proliferation in India and aims to deploy a multitude of Wi-Fi hotspots through the country to increase digital access and drive-up connectivity options. This initiative plans to set up hyper-local focused Wi-Fi networks and access points by local players and micro-businesses (like neighbourhood and Kirana shops) through Public Data Offices and will not need any license, fee, or registration. 

It will give a low-cost option to the underserved sections of the nation and lead to the emergence of a more connected country. Access to the internet will not only be useful for commercial and entertainment purposes but will provide an opportunity to improve healthcare by leveraging telemedicine, education, and also agricultural extension amongst other things.

Given that this initiative aims to bypass the red tape and bureaucracy by eliminating licenses and fees, it can result in a massive scale-up of the internet in rural India. It also opens up new income avenues as even a neighbourhood micro-businesses can register online as service providers.

PM-WANI is a wonderful effort to build a more connected India and significantly bridge the digital India divide. 

However, there is always an investment involved to become an ISP even if it is for a small area or locality. These micro-ISPs will have to make some investments to tie up with established internet service providers, they have to set up servers, and wi-fi routers. They also have to get subscriber management and billing management software in place and also set up payment gateways. 

Given that we are talking about rural India, it’s clear that this investment has to deliver a significant RoI for schemes such as these to proliferate and prosper. However, with users having expectations for free or extremely low-cost wi-fi, the ability of these new service providers to monetize their services innovatively will become the essential gating factor for the success of the scheme.  

Thankfully technology can come to the rescue here as well and present options to help small wi-fi providers monetize their entrepreneurship initiative so that it becomes sustainable and also delivers better returns. Some of the ways to enable rural wi-fi monetization could be as follows

Captive portal monetization

Rural wi-fi service providers can look at captive portal monetization to increase revenue and get an RoI. The service providers can increase revenue inflow by serving advertisements on the captive portal. A captive portal is commonly used to present a log-in or a landing page that may require authentication, present end-user agreements, user policies, payments, etc., and hence becomes the perfect spot to leverage advertising opportunities.

These advertisements can be served in the form of banners and other static ads on the captive portal. Video advertisements on captive portals further improve monetization opportunities where the user has to view a 20-second advertisement to gain access to the wi-fi. This can yield high pay-per-view and generate bigger advertising revenue.

Multi-screen monetization

Just like a captive portal, service providers can also monetize their services by enabling multiple advertisements across multiple screens. So, when a user moves out of the landing page and opens another screen, multiple advertisements can be served to the end-user there as well. Ad links can be set up and monetized by either having the consumer pay when the link is accessed or the advertiser pays for each click on the link.  

Entertainment portal monetization

Service providers can capitalize on entertainment portal monetization especially with the rising proliferation of web-based entertainment. These service providers can engage with an OTT portal and redirect users to the specific portal. 

These providers can then serve advertisements on these portals along with providing their consumer base with the media. They can then share the revenue generated by advertising and media consumed with the portal and make sure that their coffers do not run dry.

User behaviour analysis

Relevance and context are the pillars of monetization opportunities. User behaviour analysis becomes an enabler to serve the right advertisement to the right user. Analytics derived from user behaviour provides inputs on preferred ad categories, user demographics, and demographic details. Behaviour data make advertising more targeted and relevant and hence monetizable as well.

App-based monetization

The rise of the application economy has impacted rural India as well. There is a growing proliferation of education and fintech applications. A variety of apps use IoT devices to gather information and deliver services. Consequently, there are more monetization opportunities for Wi-Fi service providers by providing the data backbone such apps need. 

Learning applications, agriculture-oriented IoT applications like those used for automated pump controls, fintech applications for dairy and milk management, or applications to buy and sell agricultural produce could all use the WiFi networks for a fee. The user data from these applications can also be used for in-app monetization opportunities and run targeted ad campaigns.

In Conclusion 

Wi-fi for most of the urban world is now a necessity. Most of the urban population would not hesitate to put it in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, right next to the basic physiological needs of food, water, and shelter. The PM-WANI initiative, if executed correctly has the potential to do the same for the rural areas and bring the advantage of greater access, convenience, and connectivity to a huge, currently underserved demographic. This could become a turning point in rural India’s digital ambitions but much will hinge on the ability of the freshly-minted ISPs to monetize their investments appropriately.