Google’s Free Wi-Fi Project is now powering 400 Indian Railway Stations

Dibrugarh becomes 400th free WiFi-enabled railway station as Google-RailTel completes high-speed Internet project. 8 million people use the public Wi-Fi services.

NEW DELHI / DIBRUGARH: Back in 2015, Google  launched an initiative to bring free WiFi to India’s railway stations and today the U.S. tech giant announced that the program has passed its target of reaching 400 stations, attracting a base of eight million users in the process.

The milestone was hit today when Dibrugarh station in northeastern state Assam went online.

Google gave some insight into the scale of the program’s reach when it revealed that over eight million people use the railway-based WiFi each month. On average, the firm said, users consume 350MB in data per session with half going online via the WiFi program at least twice per day.

In another sign of scale, Google began to monetize the initiative earlier this year by offering high-speed connections for a price. The standard option includes ads to develop revenue for Google and its partners, which include Indian Railways and RailTel.

Reaching million users and over 400 stations is hugely impressive but Google said that its journey “remains unfinished.” Beyond connecting stations, the firm wants to add free WiFi to other connection points across India.

“India has the second largest population of internet users in the world, but there are still almost a billion Indians who aren’t online. There are millions of other life-changing journeys that still haven’t been taken. We realize that not everyone in India lives or works near a train station,” Caesar Sengupta, VP of Google’s Next Billion team, wrote in a blog post.

The program is also taking roots overseas. Google has already expanded it to Indonesia and Mexico and Sengupta said that it will make its way to “even more countries soon.”

Google isn’t the only tech giant pioneering a free Wi-Fi model. Facebook’s successor to — the program that was banned in India for violating net neutrality regulations — launched in India last year. The company hasn’t said much about it, but it isn’t likely to have anything like the same scale as Google’s.

Free Wi-Fi isn’t the only India-specific strategy from Google. The U.S. firm has launched a series of local services in India, including data-friendly versions of its top apps, a mobile payment network called Tez, a food delivery service and — most recently — a social network for local communities.

The project has succeeded in its mission of bringing connectivity to millions of unconnected Indians, leveraging on the nationwide optic fiber network backbone created by RailTel, it added. RailTel is the telecom arm of Indian Railways. Within the first year of the project’s launch, 100 of the busiest railway stations across India were brought online, enabling 15,000 people to experience the internet for the first time every day, it said.

Launching of Milestone Free Wi-Fi service rolled out by RailTel and Google at Dibrugarh railway station by the senior officials of RailTel and Google.

“With over 8 million monthly unique users connecting to the network, this is a lighthouse project for India and every growing economy that is looking to bring the benefit of connectivity to everyone in their country,” Google India Director Partnership Next Billion Users K Suri said.

K Manohar Raja, Executive Director (Enterprise Business) at RailTel said the endeavour has been to bridge the experience divide by providing one of the fastest public WiFi networks in the world. The service, which offers thirty minutes of free access to the internet, saw users consuming about 350 MB of data per session on an average.

While majority of the users are in the 19-34 age group, efforts to help older and first time users with onground support staff has helped millions to experience the internet for the first time, the statement said.

According to K Manohar Raja, Executive Director, Enterprise Business, RailTel, the project, which was to be rolled out in 400-odd stations across the country by the end of 2018, is complete well ahead of schedule.

“Under this partnership with Google we have covered 400 stations under A and A1 categories. We would now be looking to roll out similar service in B and C category stations as well. We will initiate discussions soon,” he said while rolling out the service at Dibrugarh — the 400th station thereby completing the mandate.

Demand in Tier-II towns

There are close to 700 stations in B and C category and RailTel is looking to come up with an RFP (request for proposal) shortly to select a partner.

Though mobile data has become more affordable in the country over the past one year, however, that has not impacted the demand and usage of free Wi-Fi, said K Suri, Director, Partnerships, India, Next Billion Users, Google India.

“There is a huge appetite for data, particularly from Tier II towns. Despite mobile data becoming more affordable there is still hunger to use Wi-Fi,” Suri said.

According to Google, while 36 per cent are first time users, nearly 50 per cent access internet multiple times a day. Close to two-thirds of the users belong to the age group of 19-34.

While currently the revenue model is largely dependent on the streaming of advertisements, they are exploring other avenues such as mobile data offloads (routing of data away from cellular networks to their Wi-Fi network) and introducing paid Wi-Fi as possible source of generating income.

Exploring more avenues

As part of the Next Billion Users initiative, Google is now building on the success of RailTel project to expand the public Wi-Fi outside train stations, into Indian cities and around the world.

The company has already launched a pilot of its Google Station – the public Wi-Fi platform – in Pune under the Smart City project.

“We are in talks with government, telecoms and ISPs. We would be keen to take this to other cities, municipalities and rural areas,” Suri said.

Twenty-two year old Humayun Noor comes to the Guwahati railway station almost every night to download study materials and Bollywood movies. The third year student of Cotton College situated less than a km away from the railway station, relies more on the free Wi-Fi access available at the station than his mobile data which fails him at the hour of need.

“I have Jio connection, but sometimes it doesn’t work too well at all places. So I come to the railway station preferably at nights and download whatever I need,” Noor told.

Krishna Sharma, a magazine vendor on the Guwahati station is glad that he can use the Wi-Fi during his leisure time to watch movies.

“Earlier I used to get rather bored when there was no flow of trains at the station. But now I watch movies or listen to songs using the Wi-Fi. I have also downloaded several apps of Indian Railways to get accurate information on train schedules which I use to update myself and also assist passengers,” he said.

Humayun and Krishna are among those 8 million odd people who actively use the public Wi-Fi service on a monthly basis, provided under “RailWire”.

How to access free Wi-Fi at railway stations? Check step-by-step guide

Google, in partnership with Indian Railways’ telecom company RailTel, on Thursday announced that its free public Wi-Fi programme, RailWire has been successfully accomplished with the Dibrugarh in Assam becoming the 400th railway station to get the public Wi-Fi service. The RailWire project began piloted in 2016 under PM Narendra Modi’s Digital India initiative. It was then proposed that there will be at least 400 railway stations that will be equipped with free high-speed public Wi-Fi hotspots.

The RailWire Wi-Fi hotspot offers 30 minutes of free Internet access to the people who are at the covered railway stations in India. The data limit given to the users is around 350MB per person, which includes both browsing and downloading. Due to the free Wi-Fi hotspots available across the strong network of railway stations, many people have leveraged the service for various purposes, including for education. If you want to access the free RailWire Internet service, here is a step-by-step guide:

Step 1 – Make sure you are at one of those railway stations that are covered by RailWire Wi-Fi service

Step 2 – Turn on Wi-Fi settings on your mobile phone, PC, or other supported device

Step 3 – If you are in the coverage area, you will see the RailWire Wi-Fi SSID, although it is generally suffixed with some numbers and English letters.

Step 4 – Tap on RailWire to connect to Wi-Fi. You will get a notification to sign into the network

Step 5 – Now, tap on the notification that will open a secured webpage of Google’s RailWire service. The page is ad-supported, so it is possible that a video advertisement begins playing the moment you open the webpage. Therefore, it is recommended to lower down the volume on your device to save the unwanted attention.

Step 6 – Tap on the Start button located in the top right corner of the webpage.

Step 7 – Now you will be asked to enter your mobile phone number for registration. Make sure that the mobile number you are entering is accessible to you so that the OTP can be obtained.

Step 8 – On the next page, you need to enter the OTP you received on your mobile number. Now click Connect

Step 9 – Your RailWire Wi-Fi connection is successful. Exit the Wi-Fi sign-in page now.

After you are connected to Google and RailTel’s RailWire free public Wi-Fi hotspot, you are free to use the Internet at high speeds. However, the speed largely depends on the number of connections presently active in a particular area. Once registered on RailWire, you won’t need to repeat the sign-in process on any railway station across India – just turn your Wi-Fi on and your phone will automatically connect to RailWire.