After Google, Indian Railways has managed to rope in the Tata Group to get WiFi facility at over 4,000 stations across India free of cost. As part of the understanding, Tata Trusts had been given eight stations between Bengaluru and Mysore to carry out proof of concept (PoC) of the WiFi project— station users are able to access high-speed internet for free— before the same is rolled out across India. The PoC process has been a success at eight stations.
After a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year, Railways had been trying to work out a strategy to enable WiFi at stations in a way that neither the national transporter nor the government incurs any expenditure on this. Accordingly, Tata Trusts will be carrying out the project as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Railways will not have to pay a penny.
Sources said that Railway Minister Piyush Goyal took personal initiative in parleys with the top brass of the Tata Group to get the Tatas on board. This is said to be a priority item for the Railway Board as this will translate into the largest CSR initiative ever on Indian Railways.
“We will be signing an MoU with Tata Trusts for 4,000-plus stations soon,” said N Kashinath, Director General, Signal and Telecommunications, Railway Board. With over 4,000 stations getting free WiFi, the mission to bring all stations under a free public wifi coverage is more or less complete before this government ends its term. When asked about the project, a Tata Trusts spokesman declined to comment.
Of the 8,000-odd stations on Indian Railways, around 2,000 stations have been deliberately left out of the proposed WiFi map since they are what are called halt stations and do not receive significant footfall. With the Tatas slated to adopt 4,000 stations from across the station categories from B to E, the free WiFi project seems more or less a done deal.
Google has already wired up over 400 bigger stations across India to take the current number to 712 stations. PowerGrid Corporation has also been given 100 stations as part of its CSR initiative. Railways’ own telecom PSU RailTel has also done a number of stations.
After a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office last year, the Railway Board had got the signal that in the day and age of inexpensive, universal high-speed mobile data, spending government money on free WiFi at stations where the return on the investment was not positive, no longer made much sense.
The Tatas have tied up with a separate agency to get the work done. For the Railways, the PoC was a way to smoothen the rough edges and weed out any teething troubles before a larger, pan-India roll out. “Including Nayandahalli and Hejjeala in Bengaluru city area, there are 12 stations between Bengaluru and Mysore of which Tata Trusts has been given eight stations for PoC,” C H Mohan, Principal Chief Signalling Engineer of South Western Railway told The Indian Express. The station WiFi project has been a priority item of the Railways, monitored by the PMO since 2014. Except for Google taking up 400 busiest stations, the proliferation of the project elsewhere has always been plagued by slowdown due to one reason or the other.
The Railway Ministry had also approached the Department of Telecom to tap into the Universal Service Obligation Fund for the same. Officials said that it is finally the CSR route that is showing signs of success in this area.