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Facebook Targets India's Hinterland

After moves by Google and Microsoft, social networking giant Facebook is now looking to provide free or low-cost Internet access in India's rural areas, according to local media reports.

Apparently called WiFi Express, the service Facebook is promoting forms a part of its initiative to offer Internet connectivity in the country's hinterland. Facebook is said to be conducting a pilot of the service at several locations in north India, with reports suggesting the company is experimenting with various business models before it tries to expand across the country.

Facebook, of course, is not the only technology giant with an initiative to connect the unconnected. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) is planning to offer WiFi at subsidized rates in India and laying fiber in the state of Telangana in the south of the country for this purpose. Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) is seeking permission from India's government to provide Internet connectivity at low prices using white-space technology.


For more fixed broadband market coverage and insights, check out our dedicated broadband content channel here on Light Reading.


It is easy to see why the Indian market is especially tempting for technology firms: With a population of 1.3 billion, the country remains one of the few large untapped markets in the world. Moreover, a substantial percentage of India's population speaks English. That most of these technology players have failed to make any headway in neighboring China -- the biggest economy in the region -- further bolsters India's importance.

Yet technology players may struggle to realize this potential given basic problems, such as the lack of decent last-mile connectivity. An even bigger worry may be the current debate over net neutrality. In India, there has already been a public outcry about Internet.org, a Facebook-led initiative that offers customers free or heavily discounted access to particular websites. It may be difficult to restrain the technology giants if they control the Internet pipes as well. (See DoT Pushes for Net Neutrality in India and Airtel Zero Sparks Net Neutrality Debate in India.)

— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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MikeP688 10/5/2015 | 3:14:17 AM
Re: Fibers before Food Whenever I have a chance to catch NDTV, a day does not pass as Amazon India touts how much "skus" it has.    It has a steep mountain to climb for sure-but Bezos will not stand idly by especially as Alibaba is hot on its' heels (not withstanding its' current stumbles).
MikeP688 10/5/2015 | 3:12:32 AM
Re: Fibers before Food Twitter has to overcome Weibo (which I use as part of my on-going development of my startup, the Daily Outsider and frankly is a lot of amenable and Twitter should consider adopting some the features), Baidu is quite engaging (although it is "fake" at times due to Government Control).   Google is negotating and yes the potential opportunity can and should be enticing for anyway.  As for Facebook, Mr. Mark has a "leg up"--perfect Mandarin and a good solid knowledge of the culture which will help immensely.   I guess I am saying--I agree with you :-) :-) 
nasimson 10/4/2015 | 9:28:02 AM
Re: Fibers before Food @Mike: Google, Facebook and Twitter will get access to Chinese market eventually. It's not a matter of IF, it's a matter of WHEN. When that will happen, let's say in 201x how will these 3 lure Chinese customers away from decade-old decade-long local competition will be an interesting case study. This will be unprecedented in the history of internet.
MikeP688 9/30/2015 | 12:59:04 AM
Re: Fibers before Food He also dressed up for the President of China too as he showed off his knowledge of Mandarin--i Was on "China" watch on my startup network as I was assessing Xi's Visit.    Google, as you probably know, has been literally "Begging" China to get back in the game as MIcrosoft also partnered with Baidu.  Strange Bedfellows....
nasimson 9/28/2015 | 10:47:18 PM
Re: Fibers before Food Facebook and Google can't afford to miss out the Indian market. Missing out on Chinese users has already been a BIG MISS for them. Only yesterday I saw Amazon India tv ad asking users to try the service. It's way behind local e-commerce giant FlipKart. There's a lesson here.
Kruz 9/28/2015 | 6:06:23 PM
Re: Fibers before Food ...And not any railways. Indian railways are used by 25 million users daily it seems and the journeys can be very long pushing more users to use data provided by the big interloopers(Google, Fb and whoever might join later).
jabailo 9/28/2015 | 10:59:41 AM
Re: Fibers before Food Bringing open internet access to the railway stations seems like a great way to integrate transportation and communications.    From there service can be spun out like a star network.  
Kruz 9/28/2015 | 9:38:42 AM
Re: Fibers before Food This is definitely big for FB as it is the first time I see Zuk all dressed up !
nasimson 9/28/2015 | 9:06:53 AM
Re: Fibers before Food @jabailo: India is a challenge for businesses and policy makers alike. Country has its unique challenges with big bounties. Recently Indian Prime Minister met CEOs of Google and Facebook. So I expect more to come.
MikeP688 9/28/2015 | 12:10:05 AM
Re: Fibers before Food The Indian Prime Minister is working to transform things--and is working quite dilligently on the very things you're discussing.    It is not an easy task with the vastness and complexity of India.    It is fun to be witness to it though as I assess it as part of one of the projects I'm doing for the network I work for, @DailyOutsider.    
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