Soon, you may be able to browsealong with your cuppa atover 20,000 chai stalls in Mumbai

Mumbai, February 2:

Twenty-year-old Ahmed Farooque is watching his favourite videos on YouTube at Mumbai Masala, a small and modest eatery in the city’s Fort area. His free Wi-Fi connection is part of a project to roll out internet browsing services at 22,000 tea vendors in the city.

“Generally, I run to Starbucks or McDonald’s when I have to download stuff or update the heavy applications on my smartphone. However, this is a much cheaper option,” Farooque, a college student, said.

The concept of installing Wi-Fi hotspots at tea centres is being pushed by MUFT Internet, a company helmed by 20-something scientists who are still pursuing higher education. MUFT, which means free, wants to make Wi-Fi available at common places such as eateries, hospitals and universities.

“We believe that free internet should be considered a human right and are hence working on ways to bridge the digital divide,” Jinesh Parekh, a Researcher at MUFT Internet, who is also pursuing a Masters in Human Computer Interaction from Estonia, said.

Though it’s just been three days of offering free broadband, Mumbai Masala is already seeing more footfalls. Sales have gone up by 50 per cent for an additional monthly investment of Rs. 1,500 (for Wi-Fi equipment and support), according to Harishbhai Poojari, Manager of the 18-month-old eatery. Mumbai Masala is now able to attract more college students in addition to office-goers, its standard clientele.

“Today, a former tea vendor (Narendra Modi) is the Prime Minister of our country. Our owner felt it was high time that tea joints and small eateries in the country get a complete makeover. Moreover, it’s a great differentiator as Fort area is populated with all kinds of eateries,” said Poojari.

MUFT Internet said it can enable internet access for 50 persons, starting at Rs. 500 a month. The company is able to keep costs low by a combination of methods such as group-buying of broadband, innovative software technologies and participation of philanthropists, said Parekh.

Siddarth Bharwani, Director at Jetking Infotrain, and several other industry executives are part of the company. MUFT has also written to large corporations such as Infosys, Samsung and Micromax to support this initiative.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated February 3, 2015)

via Tea, with internet, anyone? | Business Line.