Public Wi-Fi hotspots might play a more-important role supporting mobile Internet access in India than is commonly perceived. Both of the largest mobile carriers in India, plus upstart Reliance Jio Infocomm, plan to build huge networks of public Wi-Fi hotspots in coming years.

To be sure, most of those networks will be in the larger urban centers. But those are the places public Wi-Fi has the greatest value. And urban areas are where backhaul infrastructure also is likely to exist.

Reliance Jio Infocomm, a subsidiary of Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries, plans to enter into agreements with various state and local authorities to offer Wi-Fi  services.

Reliance also is building fiber to premises networks in 900 cities and towns as well, which will create the backhaul networks needed to support the Wi-Fi deployments.

It seems highly likely that is part of an effort to leverage public hotspots to support mobile services, which Reliance Jio also is launching across india.

In part, that strategy is dictated by Reliance Jio spectrum holdings, which are heavily in the 2300 MHz band, where in-building coverage is going to be an issue.

Also, the capital investment to create public hotspot coverage is vastly better than the cost to install additional mobile tower sites.

Separately, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone India created a Wi-Fi joint venture, Firefly Networks,to create a similar public hotspot network.

Firefly Networks is currently building in Delhi, and will compete with Reliance Jio for Wi-Fi supplied as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India and Smart City initiatives.

Firefly Networks is a 50:50 joint venture between Bharti and Vodafone India, the largest mobile service providers in India.

Those efforts illustrate the fact that public Wi-Fi, which might otherwise be thought to be impractical, at best, where there is little fixed network infrastructure, actually does make sense in India, since the areas of heaviest mobile Internet usage at present are the urban centers, where fixed network infrastructure does exist.