Wireless for Communities is an initiative of Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) and the Internet Society (ISOC) that has been supported by various partners over the years. Launched in 2010, Wireless for Communities or W4C aims to connect rural and remote locations of India, where mainstream Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are not willing to provide internet connectivity as they feel their operations would not be commercially viable.
W4C involves line-of-sight and low-cost Wi-Fi equipment, which utilise the unlicensed spectrum bands — 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz — to create community-owned and community-operated wireless networks in rural and remote locations of India to democratise access and make it available to all.
In developing countries, wireless connectivity has emerged as one of the inexpensive technologies to bridge the connectivity gap in remote areas. These wireless technologies have created much interest on the part of the international-development community. However, there are no two opinions the fact that Internet penetration levels in India are below world average; and the penetration level in rural India is even worse. The combination of poor rural tele-density and Internet penetration further widens the divide between the haves and the have-nots, and therefore deploying traditional communications infrastructure may not be economically viable from both a service provider and a subscriber’s point of view.
There is a need to understand that last mile wireless connectivity has the potential to resolve the issue of prohibitive cost of deploying conventional wired infrastructure in remotest areas of the country. W4C as a project, therefore, aims to create a holistic wireless ecosystem to:
- Democratise the availability of connectivity
- Enable Internet accessibility in rural parts of the country
- Improve socio-economic benefits through a bottom-up approach
- Initiate dialogue and deliberation on the necessity of wireless networks
- Address the issue of lack of content, products and services originating from rural areas
- Provide access to relevant government and citizen services and information
- Build a network to enhance cultural and traditional knowledge
- Deploy at least one wireless mesh network in a cluster to target a community
- Develop local human capacities by organising training programmes
Through the project, DEF also trains members of the local community members to operate wireless technology and deploy them for linking rural population to the Internet and the vast information it stores.
In the last six years, DEF has connected rural and remote locations in as many as 38 districts across 18 states of India — and the numbers are only growing.
The Baran W4C network is one of the widest coverage networks under the project. The network is spread across 200 kilometres; and about 10 CIRCs, besides facilitating health and educational services among others. Baran network serves Rajasthan’s two tribal communities, Bheel and Sahariya.
The Shivpuri W4C network is located in a tribal-dominated district of Madhya Pradesh. The region is classified as one of the most backward districts of India; and is also a pivotal centre for the Wireless Women for Education and Empowerment project. There are 10 women entrepreneurs who are leading the W4C network in Shivpuri.
Guna in Madhya Pradesh in another backward and tribal dominated region. It is also the centre where DEF runs its biggest W4C training centre.
Over the years, several projects of DEF have been inspired by W4C’s wireless ecosystems and several other initiatives have emerged out of the umbrella project. One such initiative has been Wireless Women for Entrepreneurship & Empowerment (W2E2).