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"The thief is immortal" Restart the global free WiFi program, what is the purpose of Facebook?

via:博客园     time:2018/6/29 18:32:30     readed:448


"Let the Internet be more equal," Zuckerberg said four years ago, to let the people of the world use Wifi for free. However, the third-world Guangdong people did not buy it. In India, this plan Facebook was accused of "digital colonialism" and was stopped by the authorities. Since then, Facebook has also taken the initiative to quietly shut down the service in Myanmar.

However, in the face of the huge user base of emerging countries, Facebook's thief is dying and "low-key" restarts the free WIFI program.

Zhixiang.com has learned that since June 2018, Facebook has launched its Express WiFi program in India. This time, it is obviously learned, very low-key, Zuckerberg did not come out again to publish similar "ldquo; make the Internet more equal" remarks.

Google started distributing free WiFi in India's railway station six months ago, and the Indian government has also planned its own free WiFi network.

Three feet, the winner, the horn of war has just blown.

Surrounding cities in the countryside

Imagine: Kumar, who was working in Delhi, was exhausted in urban life and desperately needed a breathing space. He decided to go on vacation. He packed his backpack and headed towards the mountains. Unfortunately, as he moved further and further away from the city, the network signal became worse and worse. In the end, he completely cut off the network. After all, India's 4G network is still being laid in the process of "urban encircling rural areas."

No cell phone signal, he is like an island, can not rely on navigation to give him a way, had to listen to fate. He stopped at a teahouse and tried to determine his position. He took a sip of tea and picked up the "Facebook Express WiFi" logo on the wall.

He gave the shop owner 10 rupees, bought an hour online, downloaded the map to his destination with WiFi, downloaded some music he was listening to while driving, and then went back on the road.

This is the story that Facebook tried to tell in the Indian market.

In recent years, India’s 4G network has been developing rapidly and there is still room for network services. Although the free 4G-driven traffic storm provided by telecom giant Jio continues, the real situation is still not optimistic. Major telecom operators such as Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular still cannot convince users to abandon 2G with 4G.

As of March 2018, 70% of Airtel’s approximately 3.04 billion users are still using 2G networks. Of Idea’s 145 million users, 4G users accounted for only 24.06%.

In addition, the gap between urban and rural areas is also very alarming. The December 2017 data from the Indian Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRAI) shows that of the 446 million Internet users in India, only 132 million are rural people. The results of the 2011 census show that India's rural population is more than twice the urban population.

Obviously, this is a vacuum that is waiting to be filled, and Facebook thinks Express WiFi is the solution.

This is not the first time Facebook has tried. Its last attempt was to provide Free Basics free network infrastructure services for more than 20 developing countries including India. It cooperates with local operators in various countries. Users can use the internet.org application to avoid traffic charges. Facebook and several other network services, including AccuWeather (USA), Johnson's BabyCenter, BBC News, ESPN (USA), search service Bing, etc.


It only provides a limited free network, users need to pay for traffic if they want to jump from Bing search to search results. More criticized is that it is not localized enough, most of the third-party services come from private companies in the United States, and the protestors call it "digital colonialism." In addition, it also collects a large amount of user data.

In the end, Free Basics declared failure in a storm of criticism that violated the principle of network neutrality. In February 2016, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of India shut down after continuous public protest.


Facebook Ambition & Elegance ”

But Facebook’s ambition cannot be stopped.

In India, Facebook’s number of active users has surpassed that of the United States and has become Facebook’s largest base, accounting for 11% of the world’s total. However, the 241 million figure clearly shows that there is still much room for growth compared with India's population of more than 1.3 billion.

Unable to enter the Chinese market, to serve more people, Facebook has no choice but to cover the network to where the telecom operators are not yet referring.

Several months after the Free Basics was called up, the Express WiFi pilot project was launched. It is in line with Free Basics, and it is also aimed at improving the Internet access rate and providing Internet services for more Indians who cannot access the Internet. Facebook plans to cooperate with "carriers, internet service providers and local entrepreneurs" to establish more than 20,000 network hotspots in India, allowing users to use wireless networks.

After the low-key launch in May 2017, it has not been much action, but according to Indian media The Ken reports, Express WiFi service will be accelerated in the second quarter and third quarter of this year.

But it is slower. When Facebook announced the launch of its Express WIFI pilot program, Google's Railwire project (providing public WiFi at train stations) has been more than six months, and it has now covered 400 train stations nationwide.

"Facebook has been trying to understand what is feasible and what is not feasible in the configuration of WiFi hotspots. This has been going on for a long time." For the moment, the number of WiFi hotspot deployments is still very small. Sudarshan Boosupalli, head of Ruckus Networks, said.

Ruckus configures hardware and software for large WiFi areas and participates in Google's RailWire project. "And now, before they begin to seriously consider the introduction of thousands of access points in the second and third quarters. ” He added.

Shortly after Facebook launched Express WiFi, the government also took action. In July last year, the Telecommunications Authority of India launched a compatible public WiFi system called "Wi-Fi Access Network Interface" (WANI) and launched a pilot.

RS Sharma, chairman of the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of India, compares it with UPI (Uniform Payment Interface): "UPI is for the payment ecosystem, and this framework (WANI) is for the WiFi hotspot ecosystem." In the pilot, eight companies provided nearly 600 WiFi networks in different regions. WANI also intends to access Aadhaar Know-Your-Customer to access the UPI interface to cover WiFi charges.

After the pilot projects in Delhi and Bangalore were completed, the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of India recommended that all hotspots in public places such as airports, train stations, and bus stations should refer to WANI.

From the fate of Bharat BillPay (the unified payment platform established by the National Payments Corporation of India) and BHIM (the APP of India's national payment company), it is not difficult to find that in India, government-supported platforms tend to enjoy unique advantages.

So, is Facebook's Express WiFi doomed to live in the shadow of WANI, or can it create its own value? The more crucial question is that Express WiFi offers services that are not limited to the Facebook ecosystem (Free Basics can only access one Facebook social network). What is the real motivation behind the Express WiFi initiative?

Muffled and made a fortune?

Learning from the lessons of Free Basics, Facebook doesn't provide its own platform this time. It doesn't provide free networks and it only acts as a "porter" for local network and Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

Earlier, a Facebook spokesperson stated that they have cooperated with Internet service providers such as Tikona in Gujarat, LMES in Rajasthan, AirJaldi in Uttarakhand, Shaildhar in Meghalaya, and Netvision in Uttar Pradesh. Provide services locally.

In May 2017, Airtel stated that it will help Facebook build more than 20,000 hotspots as part of Express WiFi. In addition, the state-owned telecommunications company BSNL also signed a memorandum of understanding with Facebook to provide return spectrum or bandwidth for the project.

“They have identified a large broadband provider in each small city. "An informed executive told The Ken that "What Facebook is doing is bringing together these service providers and telling them that you have a customer base that I am interested in. You let me come in contact with these people. I come." Help you provide faster internet services & rsquo;. ”

So far, Tikona is the only available web service provider on Express WiFi. However, Facebook claims that there are currently 1000 hotspots in operation. The Ken internal documents show that Express WiFi plans to launch three products:

  • Retail model: Users can purchase recharge coupons of different lengths, which can be used from one day, one week, one month to one year, and users can use the network at local pharmacies, fruit shops, gyms and other places.

  • Home WiFi: Allows the user to use the ExpressWiFi network to access the router.

  • Products for cafes and other companies.

These products were not pioneered by Facebook.

Himanshu Chauhan, head of product and marketing at Tikona, said that the three products being promoted are our business model, not Facebook. "He added that there is a commercial agreement between Facebook and Internet service providers," "a portion of which we share with Facebook and some of which we retain ourselves." I think that over time, sharing ratios may change and adjust. ”

"The income sharing agreement between us and the operator allows us to increase our investment in network expansion, but we cannot discuss the specific circumstances of the agreement with the operator. ” Facebook responded.

Chauhan also introduced Tikona's retail model: "The recharge package ranges from 10 rupees to 1999 rupees and they (businesses) sell it (recharge pack) will receive about 10% commission. ”

But this business is not simple, because the quality of the network is difficult to guarantee.

The spectrum frequency of telecommunications can be divided into two categories: licensed and unlicensed. The licensed spectrum includes various commercial applications of radio waves such as television, radio, 3G, or 4G. Unlicensed spectrum is the spectrum that everyone can obtain. It is widely used in various scenarios such as wireless connection from headphones, walkie-talkies to computers. Internet service providers also use this to "innovate" wireless hotspot services.

Tikona is one of them. It works like this: Tikona installs a hubsite in an area that covers an area of ​​1 km (essentially a huge hotspot for WiFi). Every user in this coverage area needs only to open the mobile phone WiFi, and they will see the public network provided by Tikona.

After the user connects to the WiFi network, he or she can jump to the login page, or the Express WiFi APP, enter the phone number to access the Internet, just like you would at Starbucks or the airport. Users can use 125 M free of charge and pay later.

It sounds simple and easy, but it is not. The Tikona network uses an unlicensed spectrum because everyone is accessible, unlicensed spectrum is very congested, and it is vulnerable to interference from multiple users, which reduces the speed of the network connection. In addition, Tikona's own equipment also has limitations. Overall, Tikona can only achieve about 30 Mbps of available bandwidth, and if you use more users, the speed will be slower.

This business is very challenging, but obviously, Tikona thinks it is worth it. After all, the benefits are huge. But what can Facebook get from it?

Data Gold Mine

Apart from being divided into recharge revenue with Express WiFi, it seems that network service providers still have the main control. "We acquire and maintain customers. We control the end-to-end closed loop, which includes everything from network maintenance to customer maintenance. "Chauhan broke the word," Facebook has a long-term strategy.Data is their business. ”

Tikona stated that they would not share the user’s personal mobile phone number with Facebook, nor would they allow Facebook to obtain a list of websites that their users visited. Chauhan said: "This is not legally allowed. The policy of the Indian Telecom Regulatory Authority does not allow the sharing of telephone numbers." ”

Facebook also confirmed this: "Users use service providers' applications to register and recharge their accounts. Facebook does not store personal information collected by operators. ”

However, Facebook's Express WiFi application does collect some information to help cooperating network service providers optimize their services.

Facebook said that in order to help our partners understand the network quality and improve services, APP collects information on signal strength when connecting to hotspots. Facebook stores this information without displaying any personal information (which will be presented in an anonymous form) so that operators can analyze the quality of their services. ”

In addition to the revenue sharing of Express WiFi, Facebook’s interest in the project comes from two factors.

First of all, although it is not as "brutal" as Free Basics promotes Facebook, if more people are connected to the Internet, then some of them will naturally start using Facebook.

More importantly, Facebook is actually an advertising company. Of its $40 billion in global revenue, advertising accounts for 97%. In short, Facebook wants to get more advertisers through Express WiFi. This is where the real value lies.

Chauhan revealed that Facebook has established a software layer to monitor the retailer's situation. "This is like a dashboard. We can see how many people are using retail packages, what is the status of recharge, what kind of recharge packages are the most popular and so on." We can see all these details. ”

Google also built a similar software layer in RailTel. "In essence, in order to be more sustainable, the model we use is advertising." On RailTel, you can see that there is advertising on the landing page, and advertising revenue will drive the development of WiFi. "Google sources, who declined to be named, said.

An insider, who declined to be named, said Facebook views these retailers as potential customers for advertising. She said: "There may be very small businesses, maybe a family craft or other, they will be able to advertise on Facebook, which will be Facebook's revenue." ”

To this end, Facebook also launched a digital training center in November last year to help Indian companies achieve Internet+. These courses teach companies how to create a home page for their activities and how to create custom URLs. Don't forget that Facebook has been reducing the natural homepage rate of public homepages by adjusting algorithms. If small businesses want more views, Facebook will ask them to pay for advertising.

This is the real opportunity that Express WiFi brings to Facebook.

【Author: Zhao Jie, Lorry Yao; Yu Zhi like paper Original starting micro-channel public network number (ID: passagegroup) Chi as the network, the road to witness the globalization of Chinese science and technology enterprises]

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