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Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Google to stop ‘Station’ WiFi project; points to cheaper, more accessible data and infra challenges

In India, the Station programme was a part of Google’s broader vision of bringing on the “next billion users” online.

Written by Pranav Mukul | New Delhi | Updated: February 18, 2020 7:20:43 am
Free Public Internet, free wifi, free wifi hotspots, internet, google, google free wifi, free wifi railway stations, railtel, technology, technology news Meanwhile, state-owned RailTel said it will continue to provide free WiFi at over 5,600 railway stations across the country. (Express Photo)

Even though it surpassed its targets of rolling out free WiFi at railway stations, Google said Monday it was winding down its Station programme globally over the year. Google cited cheaper and more accessible mobile data, government initiatives to provide access to internet for everyone and the challenge of varying technical requirements and infrastructure among its partners across nations as the reasons to explain its decision of shutting down the programme, which commenced in India in 2015 and was later expanded to several other countries.

Meanwhile, state-owned RailTel said it will continue to provide free WiFi at over 5,600 railway stations across the country. “In this partnership, Google provided the RAN and technology support and RailTel provided the physical infrastructure and internet bandwidth (ISP). But going forward, apart from these 415 stations, we have also provided free WiFi in 5190+ B, C, D stations as well,” RailTel said in a statement.

In India, the Station programme was a part of Google’s broader vision of bringing on the “next billion users” online.

“We launched Station 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 in India by mid-2020. But 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,” Caesar Sengupta, VP—Payments and Next Billion Users, Google wrote in a blog-post Monday. “… we’ve made the decision to gradually wind down the Station programme globally, through 2020. We are working with our partners to transition existing sites so they can remain useful resources for the community,” he added.

In addition to India, the Station programme was available in Brazil, South Africa, Nigeria, Thailand, the Philippines, Mexico, Indonesia, and Vietnam. The first station in India to go live on the programme was Mumbai Central.

“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. Today, Indian users consume close to 10 GB of data, each month, on average. And similar to what the Indian government did, several governments and local entities have kicked off their own initiatives to provide easier, cost-effective access to the internet for everyone,” Sengupta wrote in the blog.

“… 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 added.

According to the latest available data shared by Google, Google Station had close to 8 million monthly active users across 400 stations in 2018. Notably, the data showed that the consumption was much higher in tier-II cities with average data consumption at around 350 MB per user.

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