Free WiFi to continue after Google partnership ends: Railways

NEW DELHI: A day after the Google announced that it is gradually winding down its free public WiFi Station programme, currently available at 415 railway stations in India, the Railways has assured the continuation of the free WiFi services at these stations.

The Google had said that it will work with the Indian Railways and Railtel Corporation to help them with existing sites so they can remain useful resources for people. The Railways contract with the search engine ends in May 2020.

Railtel, a Miniratna PSU under the Ministry of Railways, in a statement said: "We entered into a five-year contract with Google for supporting us with setting up WiFi at 415 stations only and the contract is going to expire on May 2020.

"However, RailTel will continue to provide uninterrupted WiFi service, with same speed and network quality, to passengers at these 415 stations after May 2020 as well. We sincerely value the support we received from Google in this journey," it said.

The railways PSU further said that their effort in transforming Railway stations into platform for digital inclusion will continue, and RailTel will continue to provide free WiFi at 5,600 plus railway stations across the country, including the 415 stations which were commissioned with the technological support from Google.

"Passengers will not face any inconvenience in terms of WiFi availability. We will also continue to execute WiFi connectivity at the balance stations," the RailTel said.

Google launched its Station initiative in India in 2015 to bring fast, free public WiFi to 415 of the busiest railway stations in the country by mid-2020.

Caesar Sengupta, Vice President, Payments and Next Billion Users, Google, in a statement on Monday said: "We crossed that number by June 2018 and implemented Station in thousands of other locations around the country in partnership with telecommunications companies, ISPs and local authorities.

"Over time, partners in other countries asked for Station too and we responded accordingly. We''re grateful for these partnerships, especially with the Indian Railways and the Government of India, that helped us serve millions of users over the last few years," he added.

According to Google, the decision to shut Station has been taken keeping the affordable mobile data plans and mobile connectivity in mind that is improving globally including in India.

"India, specifically now has among the cheapest mobile data per GB in the world, with mobile data prices having reduced by 95 per cent in the last 5 years, as per TRAI in 2019," said Sengupta.

The Indian users consume close to 10GB of data, each month, on an average, according to reports.

"Our commitment to supporting the next billion users remains stronger than ever, from continuing our efforts to making the internet work for more people and building more relevant and helpful apps and services," Sengupta noted.

Global networking giant Cisco last year teamed up with Google to roll out free, high-speed public WiFi access globally, starting with India.

The first pilot under the partnership was rolled out at 35 locations in Bengaluru. Sengupta said that in addition to the changed context, 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.

"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," he said.

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