Google to wind down free public WiFi service at rail stations

Pan-India network: RailWire Wi-Fi is live at 1,600 railway stations across the country. Special Arrangement  

Five years after it started the ‘Station’ programme to bring free public Wi-Fi to 400 busiest railway stations in India, Google has decided to gradually wind down the service globally as it believes that better data plans and improving mobile connectivity have made it “simpler and cheaper” for users to get online.

However, users in India will be able to continue using the existing facilities at the over 400 stations via RailTel, Google’s partner in India for the programme. The technology giant said that through the year 2020, it would be working with its partners to transition existing sites so that they could remain useful resources for the community.

Watch | Google ends its free WiFi service at Indian railway stations

Began in 2015

The programme was kick-started in India in 2015 as a partnership between Google, Indian Railways and RailTel to bring fast, free public WiFi to over 400 of the busiest railway stations by mid-2020. However, the company crossed that number by June 2018, following which more locations were added across the country in partnership with telecommunication companies, ISPs and local authorities.

Caesar Sengupta, Vice-President, Payments and Next Billion Users at Google, noted in a blog that over time, partners in other countries asked for ‘Station’ too and the company responded accordingly.

Mr. Sengupta reasoned that in the last five years, getting online has become much simpler and cheaper as mobile data plans have become more affordable and mobile connectivity is improving globally.

“The challenge of varying technical requirements and infrastructure among our partners across countries has also made it difficult for Station to scale and be sustainable, especially for our partners,” he said. “And when we evaluate where we can truly make an impact in the future, we see greater need and bigger opportunities in building products and features tailored to work better for the next billion user markets.”

Five-year contract

When contacted, RailTel spokesperson confirmed that the company will continue to service free Wi-Fi in all those railway stations. “We have roped in a number of partners along the journey and currently RailTel is providing free Wi-Fi at over 5,600 stations across the country. We entered into a five-year contract with Google for supporting us with setting up Wi-Fi at 415 stations only and the contract is going to expire soon. We sincerely value the support we received from Google in this journey.” 

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 10:42:51 PM |

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