During PM Modi’s Silicon Valley visit last month, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella had outlined his company’s elaborate plans to set up wifi hotspots within the country to provide internet access to the “next billion. Looks like the Redmond giant is ready for the project’s first pilot, and it has chosen — by pure coincidence ofcourse — Varanasi for that pilot.
Varanasi, which is often termed as India’s religious capital, is also the political constituency of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Microsoft’s move to test it in that city could well have been decided by the Indian Government rather than the company itself.
As a part of the project, the company will fund local entrepreneurs who are aiming to build devices that can overcome India’s bandwidth crunch, reports The Hindu. The company would use idle television broadcasting spectrum to operate devices developed by the local entrepreneurs.
This isn’t the only project of the company in India. Microsoft is working on two pilot projects in India, including this one, with an aim to provide low cost internet service in villages. It is starting this from a government school in Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh.
Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, said,
The reason why we are piloting it is to take the technology risk out and to show that this tech works and to show that this economic model allows you to deliver it. But my hope here is not for Microsoft, I want some local entrepreneurs to do it.
Because I feel that unless and until you have a sustainable model which local companies can deliver, I think that all these big ticket schemes won’t truly work. And that’s the kind of work we are pushing.
Microsoft however, isn’t the only eyeing a share of India’s attractive and largely untapped internet provider space. Many other global tech giants are planning to offer low-cost internet services, other than Microsoft. Earlier this month, Google received a green light from the government for its Project Loon, which aims to provide internet through balloons floating in air. The Loon balloon project has already been tested in Africa.
Facebook also recently announced that it will launch a satellite next year in collaboration with Eutelsat, a French company in order to provide low-cost Internet service. It has also announced a tie up with India’s largest telecom company BSNL, to provide internet hotspots in rural India.
At Microsoft’s Future Unleashed event, Satya Nadella said that he is optimistic about the rate of change and the rate of adoption. He is also impressed by the Indian e-commerce which is no longer about start-ups but are mega-scales.
He is also impressed with the culture of innovation in India. His optimism about India comes from what is happening in both the public and private sectors in the broader economy.