Facebook is having another go at how it can bring more people online, including in places that aren’t a big fan of the company’s earlier attempts.
The social juggernaut on Thursday announced the commercial launch of Express Wi-Fi, an initiative part of Internet.org, through which it is offering “millions” of Indians access to the entire web at an “affordable” fee.
The service is commercially available in four Indian states of Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Meghalaya, the company said today. Express Wi-Fi program is available in four other countries: Kenya, Nigeria, Indonesia, and Tanzania.
In a conversation with Mashable recently, Munish Seth, the regional head APAC for company’s connectivity solutions, said for Express Wi-Fi, the company has partnered with a slew of local entrepreneurs, and internet service providers for data access.
Today, the company announced it has also partnered with Airtel, India’s largest telecom operator (for now) to launch an additional 20,000 hotspots.
“Express Wi-Fi is designed to complement mobile data offerings by providing a low-cost, high bandwidth alternative for getting online and access apps, download and stream content,” wrote Seth.
“Our Express Wi-Fi partnerships empower local Indian entrepreneurs to start businesses to offer internet access to their town or region. They also help Indians connect to the internet easily and for an affordable rate.”
Early signs of Express Wi-Fi were spotted in villages in India last year, months after the domestic government banned Free Basics on the grounds of net neutrality. Though Munish Seth, Head of Connectivity Solutions, Facebook Asia Pacific says the company has been testing the service since 2015.
With Free Basics, which is live in nearly two dozen territories worldwide, Facebook offers access to select websites and services for free. Facebook is steering itself clear from those approaches this time.
The approach it has taken with Express Wi-Fi is similar to Google’s free Wi-Fi program in India, analysts say.