Bharti Airtel, Tata Tele, Vodafone and MTS to become active in the Railways WiFi Biz

New Delhi: Indian Railways’ plans to introduce Wi­Fi facility in 400 category B stations across the country, and SMS alerts as part of the 2015­16 Railway Budget announced on Thursday could provide huge business opportunities to private players, industry and analysts said.

Ozone Networks, the largest public Wi­Fi provider in India, said that the size of such an opportunity was immense. “We have already started discussions with the ministry for installing Wi­Fi in the stations,” Sanjeev Sarin, founder of Ozone Networks, told. Ozone has over 1,500 hot spots across India, including the Mumbai airport and McDonald’s outlets.

Sarin did not share details of investment or a blueprint of the way forward but added that the ministry has also asked the company to install Wi­Fi in two trains, without disclosing details.

Companies in the telecom sector including Tata Tele, Vodafone India and MTS that have become active in the Wi­Fi hot spot space over the last few quarters would be equally interested in implementing the government’s plan, industry watchers said.

A spokesperson for Sistema Shyam Teleservices, which runs its services under the MTS brand, agreed with Ozone’s Sarin that Wi­Fi in railway stations opened up a big opportunity for the company, which has repositioned itself from a dongle provider to a Wi­Fi services provider for consumers and enterprises.

According to industry insiders, MTS has already set up Wi­Fi in railway stations of Agra, Secunderabad and Ahmedabad, while talks are on with RailTel to add four to five more stations to this list.

MTS may well draw experience from its partnership with Rapid MetroRail Gurgaon Ltd, under which it offers free Wi­Fi in all Rapid Metro trains in Gurgaon, and four metro stations — Sikanderpur, IndusInd Bank Cyber City, Phase 2 and Micromax Moulsari Avenue, the people said. “The rail budget will leverage the reach of mobile and telecom networks for better rail facilities for the citizens,” said Hemant Joshi, Partner, Deloitte Haskins & Sells.

A number of public Wi­Fi hot spots exist in India but, at present, people have access to Wi­Fi at two railway stations — Bengaluru and New Delhi. The previous government began the programme to introduce Wi­Fi in trains on a pilot basis in the Howrah Rajdhani Express.

This was proposed to be extended to select Rajdhani, Shatabdi, Duronto trains while the number of Category A and A1 railway stations which would have Wi­Fi was to be increased to 400, from the earlier plan of 75 such stations.

Railway minister in the present government, Suresh Prabhu, did not share any further details on rolling out this service to each of the 400 category B railway stations, during his budget speech. Mentions for trains getting the Wi­Fi facility was also missing. However, analysts were encouraged with the current set of announcements which they said were positive developments for the telecom sector.

“The emphasis of railway budget on safety, usage of telecom and satellite technology through ISRO for unmanned crossings, SMS alerts, development of high speed rail network, improved customer experience through free Wi­Fi, mobile app to address complaints, multilingual e­portal are very good for the telecom and technology sectors,” Joshi said.