Aditya MadanapalleJan 11, 2017 14:35:21 IST
The Maharashtra Government announced the roll out of 500 hotspots across Mumbai on 9 January. The Wi-Fi hotspots are spread all over the city, in the North, South, East and West. An additional 700 hotspots are to follow, in what is the fastest Wi-Fi roll out by a state government.
The initiative is called "Aaple Sarkar Mumbai Wi-Fi." The list of hotspots is available in this pdf file. The coverage across the city offered by these Wi-Fi hotspots are claimed to be the largest Wi-Fi service in India, and one of the largest in the world. We checked out 12 of the listed locations, and we faced a lot of problems.
We tried connecting to the hotspots using an iOS device, and two Android devices. Connections could only be established in three locations, of the twelve we surveyed. Many of the locations had multiple hotspots at a single location. For example, Fashion Street near Mumbai CST had six Wi-Fi hotspots. Although we managed to establish a connection to one of them, a speedtest could not be connected, and the connection was lost soon after.
It is not immediately clear from any officially available information, on how exactly to connect to a hotspot. All the hotspots have the SSID of "Aaple_Sarkar_Mum-WiFi". The connections have to be selected and the status will change to "Connected (requires login/authorisation)". After that, users have to open up a web browser. On the web browser, users will be asked to enter in their phone numbers. On entering a phone number, an OTP code is sent to the phone. The number has to be now entered into the Mumbai Wi-Fi Login interface, along with the name of the user. This name is tracked. The login request is processed, and you now have an active connection.
That is if all goes well.
There are just so many different problems we encountered on the different locations. These included missing hotspots, hotspots where we could not establish a connection, hotspots where the connections failed once established. Errors we got included "no internet connection", "IP configuration failure", and "unable to join the network." In a number of places where the hotspots were available, it was impossible to initiate the process of logging in.
We tried different smartphones, different smartphone operating systems, and different browsers. It was a hit and miss affair, so we could not really pinpoint the problem. By and large though, we managed to initiate the login process with Opera Mini instead of Chrome on Android. On iOS, it eventually worked on Safari, but took its own sweet time. Establishing a connection was faster on Chrome, but doing so required the use of the less secure http protocol instead of https.
The RailTel public Wi-Fi installations, which is a collaborative effort between Google and Indian Railways are much more reliable Wi-Fi hotspots. The RailTel hotspots have the name "RailWire Wi-Fi". The OTP is sent quickly, and the sign on process actually prompts users to open a browser on selecting the hotspots, so users are not wondering what to do next, and how to login or authorise a connection.
In one location, at Kurla station, had both RailWire and Aaple Sarkar Mumbai Wi-Fi hotspots. The RailWire hotspot gave a speed of 17 Mbps, while the Aaple Sarkar Mumbai Wi-Fi hotspot gave a speed just touching 1 Mbps. The coverage of the RailWire hotspot was also better in the station, with the Aaple Sarkar Mumbai Wi-Fi hotspot only available in the eastern end of the station.
Two of the Aaple Sarkar Mumbai Wi-Fi hotspots in the Harbour line, designated as the eastern part of the city according to the list of hotspots across the city, we were pleasantly surprised by the speeds, when we managed to connect to the hotspots. Chembur gave us an astonishing speed of 70 Mbps download, and 14 Mbps upload. Tilak Nagar had a 12 Mbps download speed and 4 Mbps download speed. The locations along the harbour line had big banners announcing the rollout of the hotspots, but the same were not available in the central line.
In some locations, including Ghatkopar, Vikhroli and Bhandup, we were unable to find the hotspots at all. Bhandup apparently had two Aaple Sarkar Wi-Fi hotspots, in both the east and the west. We tried connecting to a hotspot in all four corners of the station, as well as the middle, and could not find the hotspots at all.
CST was not listed as one of locations having an Aaple Sarkar Wi-Fi hotspot, but we were able to spot one at that location, but were unable to connect to it. The density of Wi-Fi hotspots is a lot in the South side of the city, so it might be one of the nearby hotspots that was providing coverage at CST.
Hopefully, the Aaple Sarkar Wi-Fi hotspots will be given a performance upgrade, to make the login process easier and more reliable. We tend to think of these as teething problems as the service has just been rolled out. The Maharashtra government has committed to resolving any issues and maintaining a good quality of service.
Till then, there are plenty of free, public Wi-Fi hotspots available. A crowd-sourced map of public hotspots are available on the free WiFire application. RailWire hotspots are reliable and deployed in major railway stations. The metro lines have Wi-Fi hotspots as well.
Going forward, using Wi-Fi in public places in Mumbai should not be a problem at all.
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