Today, the company announced it has also partnered with Airtel, India's largest telecom operator (for now) to launch an additional 20,000 hotspots.
While Facebook offered no details, it had planned similar tie-ups with other telcos, including Reliance Jio and Vodafone.
While the Express Wi-Fi program sounds quite nice, the possibility can not be denied that Facebook wants to use it exclusively for generating profit. The access will not be restricted to any particular website.
Users can buy daily, weekly, or monthly packs and access the internet without restriction, unlike with Free Basics.
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Facebook's Free Basics is a platform that offers free access to a limited portion of the internet, curated by the social networking giant themselves.
Critics saw this as violation of the principle of Net Neutrality, which advocates equal treatment of all internet traffic. Facebook aims to increase the total internet audience which is 390 million at present amounting to be about 30 percent of the total population of 1.3 billion. Facebook has now tied up with Airtel to set up 20,000 of these hotspots across the nation. Facebook says it is looking for "maximum expansion". Earlier in November 2016, reports also surfaced that Facebook is testing waters for pulling its Express Wi-Fi project in India. "They also help Indians connect to the internet easily and for an affordable rate", Facebook's regional head of Connectivity Solution said.
Express WiFi tries to right the many wrongs of Free Basics. Anyone can run an Express Wi-Fi hotspot, which means entrepreneurs across the country can offer their communities faster and more affordable internet. However, Wi-Fi has limited range and it is hard to connect a wide area using the technology. "The market remains under-penetrated and all these efforts (by others) will help expand it further", he said.
Facebook worked closely with OEMs and technology players to bring down the cost of infrastructure. "Facebook Express WiFi gateway integrates with servers sitting in ISP premises and let them manage operations. We are just providing the solutions", he added. The Express Wi-Fi is a paid model where the Wi-Fi hotspots are made available through partner telecom operators. The states are - Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Meghalaya. But, it seems their Express Wi-Fi program has received the green signal. Access will not be restricted to any particular website.