One for the road

May 5, 2024

As Punjab government revives an old project of creating free Wi-Fi zones in the city, questions are being raised with respect to data security and the criteria for electing the hotspots

“By the end of this month, the facility will be available at 460 points in Lahore.” — Photos by Rahat Dar
“By the end of this month, the facility will be available at 460 points in Lahore.” — Photos by Rahat Dar


In February this year, the Punjab government resumed the free Wi-Fi service in public places in several parts of Lahore and other cities of the Punjab. It did not give the launch date but stated the project’s objectives which included boosting connectivity and improving internet accessibility for the public. On April 26, the government had launched the service at 50-odd locations within the city, as a pilot project.

Hassan Ishaq, a banker on MM Alam Road, decided to try the service. Of the 50 spots listed in the pilot project, the one nearest to him was Mini Market, Gulberg. “At the [Mini Market] roundabout, there was no connectivity,” he says. “But as I started walking on MM Alam Road, CM Maryam Nawaz Free Wi-Fi appeared on the list of available networks on my phone.”

Ishaq says he was initially hesitant to connect to the network, but when he finally attempted it, he was alerted by a message that said, “Insecure Network.”

“I had heard about digital security, data theft and phone hacking. So, I felt vulnerable using the free internet facility,” he says.

Later, as he tried to reconnect, he received another message that read: “Open networks provide no security and expose all network traffic. If this is your Wi-Fi network, configure the router to use WPA2 (AES) or WPA3 security type.”

Lacking tech-savvy, Ishaq decided to quit trying. “Free Wi-Fi can cost you a bomb if it breaches your phone’s security settings. My phone is my bank in my pocket; it’s got all kinds of important data,” he says.

The Punjab Safe City Authority, which is executing the project, assures the users that the internet which originates from its routers and is fitted on pole tops in different parts of the city, is 100 percent safe to use.

Sohaib Sultan, the executive officer at Telecon, a private telecom company, is overseeing the project. He explains, “We have firewalls installed to ensure the internet stream is safe for users.”

About the insecure network warning, he says that open hotspots that do not require a password generate such notifications by default. That shouldn’t be taken to mean a cyber threat.

This isn’t the first time the Punjab government has attempted to digitally transform Lahore by allowing free connectivity to the general public. Previously, in the year 2015, the Punjab Information Technology Board had set up 200 hotspots for free Wi-Fi in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Multan, Bahawalpur and Murree. The hotspots were strategically located — at places most frequently visited — and included public sector educational institutions, hospitals, government buildings, parks, marketplaces, railway stations, airports and bus stations.

This time, however, the list of hotspots issued by the government has drawn criticism from various quarters. “It [the list] includes posh areas such as MM Alam Road; elite educational institutions such as LUMS and American School; and elite hospitals,” says Ishaq. “If the facility is for the common people, why don’t public places feature in the list?”

A spokesperson for the PSCA says that for the pilot phase, the Authority has made internet access open to the passersby wherever it was feasible, as it depended on infrastructure availability.

He says that on the launch day, 50 places were declared hotspots. “On May 3, we added another 50 places to the list. These include places where the public can enjoy free access to Wi-Fi 24/7.

“By the end of this month, the facility will be made available at 460 points in Lahore.”


An interesting aspect of the project is that the PSCA has not installed any additional Wi-Fi routers. To quote Sultan, “The Authority is utilising its existing infrastructure. The routers have been installed [only] where the cameras were already installed. The idea is to ensure seamless streaming in case our fibre line gets disconnected.”

According to Sultan, the Wi-Fi router receives internet stream through the fibre line and LT wireless 4G. Each router covers a radius of 200 to 250 feet and is powered by a LESCO connection. In the event of a power failure, the routers are connected to a battery, which provides approximately an hour’s backup. He says old batteries are being replaced with new ones to increase backup time.

The PSCA says that free Wi-Fi is an emergency facility. To prevent misuse, the users are barred from accessing social media sites and enjoying video streaming. “Of all social media platforms, only WhatsApp works on free internet. There’s no bar on browsing on search engines, though.”

Sultan says that the PSCA is acquiring more bandwidth to meet the demand arising from the growing number of free hotspots.

How do you know a place has free Wi-Fi? Sultan admits that the PSCA hasn’t put up any flyers or billboards to announce that, but one can spot the poles with reflective stickers that indicate the free Wi-Fi hotspots.

For the uninitiated, the previous Free Wi-Fi Lahore programme, launched in 2015, was discontinued in 2021, reportedly due to its high cost and theft of some CPE devices. Just how sustainable is the model? Sultan replies, “First, the routers have been mounted on poles and fitted in anti-theft structures, which wasn’t the case earlier. Second, when all [460] points become operational, the government will have to bear a monthly bill of Rs 1.5 million for uninterrupted internet supply.”

Wi-Fi routers have been attached to the poles.
Wi-Fi routers have been attached to the poles.

Free Wi-Fi hotspots in Lahore city

Lahore American School

Government Muslim League High School

Degree College for Women

Minhaj University

LUMS (Entry/Exit)

Sharif Education Complex

Punjab University, Examination Centre

Astana Bazaar, Suay Wala Road

New Anarkali Bazaar

Main Bazaar, Chungi

Model Bazaar, Green Town

Food Street, Fort Road

Masti Gate

Lahore College for Women University

Gol Bagh Market, Shadbagh

Karim Block Market

Zaildar Road Market

A-Block Market

Masjid Sheikha Salaam Road

Main Market RO

Valencia Town Market

G1 Market, Johar Town

Bilal Daweoo

Bus Stop Al-Raheem Garden, Phase IV

Dhobi Ghaat Bus Stop, Daroghawala

Qurban Lines, Jail Road

Daras sBaray Mian

Naqsha Stop

Kotha Pind Stop

Jam e Shirin Park

Shalimar Hospital

Ittefaq Hospital

Opp HBL Bank

Siddiq Trade Centre

Mozang Adda

Sir Ganga Ram Chowk

General Hospital (Emergency)

MM Alam Road

Mini Market

Al-Razi Hospitals

Gaddafi Stadium RO

Hafeez Kardar Road

Shadman Chowk


Hussain Chowk

Shalimar Medical College Chowk

Safanwala Chowk, Temple Road

Faisal Chowk (Assembly Hall)

Government Science College, Wahdat Road

Fast University, Faisal Town

St Anthony’s Church (Entry/Exit), near Railway HQ

Bhatti Chowk, near Data Darbar

Darbar Baba Shah Jamal

Qainchi Main Bazaar

Scheme Mor, Link Road

DHA, Sector-H Market, Phase 3

Barkat Market

Chauburji Chowk

Iqbal Park, P5-D1 (CPE)

Moon Market, Iqbal Town

Punjab University (Main Gate)

Grand Masjid BTL, Bahria Town

Akbari Gate (Entry/Exit)

Mochi Gate (Entry/Exit)

KFC Stop, Garden Town

C-Block Market, Model Town

Chandni Chowk

Koonj Pura Park, Sabzazar

Hospital Mian Munshi, Ring Road

Patoki Bus Stop, Raiwind

Sozo Water Park

Shadipura Stop, Band Road

Suraya Azeem Hospital, Bahawalpur Road

Masjid LDA Park, Gulberg

F-Block Bus Stop, Circular Road

Ek Minar Wali Masjid, GT Road

Bhobtian Chowk, Raiwind Road

LDA School, Sabzazar

Township Market

Masjid Valencia (Main)

Vegetable Market Bypass, Raiwind

Dubai Chowk RO

Lahore Press Club and Housing Scheme, Burki Road

Old Markaz, Raiwind

Beaconhouse National University (Entry/Exit)

DHA, Y-Block, Commercial Area, Phase 3

DPS Boys’ Senior Wing, Circular Road

Pace MT, Link Road

Wahdat Road, Muslim Town

Bhekewal Mor

Taxali Chowk

Pindal Outer Road, Raiwind

Jallo Park Access (Roundabout)

Istanbul Chowk

Payala Chowk, Expo Centre

— Ahsan Malik

The writer is a media veteran interested in politics, consumer rights and entrepreneurship

One for the road