Facebook recently concluded a pilot across 125 rural locations after purchasing bandwidth from state-run BSNL, and is currently in talks with various Internet service firms.
New Delhi: After Google, it is social media giant Facebook, which is looking to hook up with Indian Railways to provide WiFi across railway stations. R.K. Bahuguna, Chairman, RailTel Corporation of India Ltd (RailTel) said the company will start talks with Facebook for expanding its WiFi coverage not only to railway stations but to villages in the vicinity as well.
“Facebook India has approached us for the WiFi initiative. We will engage with the company for the expansion of our Internet access programme across railways stations to cover villages in the vicinity,” Bahuguna responded to a media query.
RailTel has a readily available optic fibre-based network across some 4,000 railway stations in the country. The state run company is currently rolling out Railwire-branded WiFi hotspots in partnership with Internet search major Google and aims to connect at least 100 railway stations with data network by the year end.
But unlike the existing Google-backed plan, RailTel wants to take the Internet to smaller rail stops, making it available to neighbouring villages via additional access points. Under the Google-RailTel Internet programme, nearly 2 million people access free WiFi every month across 21 railway stations.
“Through this (Facebook) initiative, we will be able to offer data services up to a 10-km radius from a connected rail stop, which however can further be increased by up to 25 km via additional access points,” Bahuguna said. RailTel is capable of providing the passive infrastructure that includes optical fibre, local-area network (LAN) and power supply for the WiFi system within station premises in addition to Internet backhaul of 1Gbps at each station. Mark Zuckerberg-headed Facebook recently concluded a pilot across 125 rural locations after purchasing bandwidth from state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam (BSNL), and is currently in talks with various Internet service firms for Express WiFi expansion in the country.
RailTel is also an Internet service provider and holds a category-A licence for it. According to Bahuguna, providing WiFi service is not viable for RailTel, but with support from the Universal Service Obligation (USO) fund, it can extend the programme to as many as 40,000 villages surrounding 4,000 Internet-ready railway stations across the country.
WiFi has glitches, but a big hit with rail commuters
The newly launched WiFi at Dadar station drew crowds and commuters said that though the connection was slow, they were happy to avail of the amenity at one of the most important interchanging stations for both Central and Western Railway. Launched by Union railway minister Suresh Prabhu, most passengers are yet to get familiar with the system even as some spots lack a strong enough signal. Overall however, the response to the launch has been good.
Commuters – young and old, male and female – who were interchanging trains at Dadar were seen stopping at the Dadar CR foot-over-bridge and trying to connect to the WiFi. The younger lot was seen helping the technologically challenged as to how to use the facility. One such youth, Narendra Vishwakarma (28), who was trying to help a middle-aged man connect to the system, said, “I am trying for the last 10 minutes but for some reason, it isn’t connecting. Neither is the gentleman next to be able to connect to WiFi.”
Many said that the signal strength and speed was stronger on platforms than on foot-over-bridges. Abhijit Shah (21), who was trying to connect to WiFi with his friends, Rushabh Patel and Siddhanth Shah, said that they were able to use WiFi when they entered Dadar but lost the connection as soon as they climbed the stairs. “The signal is too weak, we have been trying for a while now but the speed is extremely slow here. It’s the exact opposite on platforms. On platforms, WiFi is fast and messages can be sent quickly, you can surf the Internet and it’s as good as the WiFi connection at home,” said Mr Abhijit.
Mr Patel said that the signal was surprisingly strong at the ticket booking office on the very same foot-over-bridge. “Maybe, the modems that have been placed here are weaker and those at the stations are stronger. But yes, this is a good initiative by the railways, especially at important stations like Dadar and I will keep tabs to see if it gets better,” he said.
Ravi Karade, a Ghatkopar resident who travels to his workplace in Andheri every day, said that he had been receiving Internet at the same slow rate of 0.1 kpbs. “I have got the same slow speed of Internet speed everywhere. I sent a message on Whatsapp around 10 minutes ago and it just went through, so I don’t know what is the exact issue but maybe Wifi is new so they are still figuring things out. But I am glad that they are doing this in the first place. Now, I don’t mind leaving a train or two because of the crowd as I still have Wifi to kill time,” said Mr Karade.