RailTel revises bidding date as many as 10 times over the past 60 days as Firms shy away in bidding for IR’s WiFi Project

NEW DELHI: The Central Government’s aim of of connecting 7,700 Railway Stations with WiFi facilities might not be met. Companies have not shown much interest in the tender it has floated for a contract in this regard, citing lack of commercial viability and huge infrastructure costs.

The tender was floated by RailTel Corporation some months earlier. The idea was to make all 8,500 stations across the country enabled with WiFi by the end of this year. “We would like the tender to be broken into several smaller ones. It would be difficult to manage these many stations at one go. We would like a process like what Google did over a period of time. Six months is too less a time for powering 7,000-plus stations,” said a senior vice-president of a global information technology company, which had initially shown interest.

According to railway officials, advertisement sales revenue from such WiFi spots could be as high as Rs 170 billion a year by 2020. RailTel has revised the final date for bidding as many as 10 times over the past two months. The initial deadline of April 17 is now June 28. With the response, talks are on as to whether or not to withdraw the ambitious tender.

Companies are also wary about the infrastructure costs and commercial viability. “Providing WiFi connectivity to all stations requires massive technology, back-support and manpower costs. It makes sense to provide internet facilities at 2,500-odd stations — the other places are where footfall is not that much and the user base would be very small. The cost to maintain such stations would be prohibitive,” said a senior executive from a telecom firm.

The tender was for supply, installation, testing, commissioning, operation and maintenance of Wi-Fi services for 7,700 stations under the D, E and F categories. According to sources in the railways ministry, Facebook, Google, Airtel and Reliance Jio had initially shown interest. Google, in the first phase of the project, powered internet facilities at a little over 400 stations, under the ‘Railwire’ project. At present, the company has taken that number to about 700 major stations.