News

POV: Facebook’s Express Wi-Fi in India

Background:

Facebook has stated that it has more than 166 million monthly active users in India, and considers India to be one of its key markets after the US. However, many individuals in India are still unable to connect to the internet.  After the recent failure of Facebook’s Free Basics program in India due to it issues with net neutrality, Facebook is attempting to solve this problem once more with the introduction of Express Wi-Fi.

Details and Implications:

Express Wi-Fi is software that enables local entrepreneurs to work with service providers to share their Wi-Fi free of charge with the public. India is the first location where Express Wi-Fi has gone live, with Facebook stating that it plans to extend the service to other regions around the world shortly. Initially this seems a much better approach than Facebook’s previous venture Free Basics, as it doesn’t appear to restrict the sites users can access, making it simply a platform for connectivity.

Facebook has launched Express Wi-Fi in India first as it is one of the fastest growing markets for smartphones with around 340 million mobile internet users predicted by 2017. Recent developments in the Indian economy have also added to this growth:

  1. The entry of ‘Reliance Jio’ (new telecom operator) in the 4G market providing high speed internet for free for limited periods. The company claims to be very effective and cheap in comparison to existing operators, even after the initial period has ended. This has increased the adoption of 4G in the Indian market at a much faster rate than the previous adoption of 3G. Strategically Jio is also targeting disconnected areas of India in the same way as Facebook with Express Wi-Fi.
  2. On 8th Nov 2016, The Government of India announced a Demonetization Plan, giving rise to a much-needed push for cashless banking, which resulted in the very evident and rapid growth of online banking.

If Facebook is successful in providing quality internet to consumers, this should hopefully increase the consumption of content which requires a fast internet connection, such as video streaming. It will also open up the opportunity to understand the behavior of individuals not only in urban, but in rural territories too. Furthermore, for brands and advertisers, the increase in consumer data from more far-reaching areas will not only enable them to understand new markets, but also target these users in new ways.

Facebook has not yet disclosed the markets and regions where it is planning to launch Express Wi-Fi. However, whichever markets are included will help larger ecommerce players and small businesses alike and it will enable Facebook to engage with a much wider audience with more consistency. Moreover, if Express Wi-Fi is successful in providing internet to these new areas, other services will have to be quickly implemented to keep up with the resulting needs of these new users.

Summary:

Hopefully Express Wi-Fi will be successful at providing good quality, restriction free internet to previously disconnected rural areas. For brands and advertisers this presents a unique opportunity to gain insights into and interact with, previously unreachable individuals. For Facebook it could mean adding to its 1.79 billion monthly active users.  However, it will still take some time for the service to develop and the true openness of its offering is yet to be seen.