As Indian Railways subsidiary RailTel launches a tender for trackside to train connection services, BWCS spoke to Ashutosh Vasant, director of RailTel and the man in charge of its Wi-Fi project.

Mr Vasant will be one of the keynote speakers at this year’s Wi-Fi on Trains Conference.

“The tender documents are now live,” Mr Vasant told us. Eschewing the now creaking trackside comms GSM-R system, which has been slowly rolled out across Europe, RailTel, has opted to follow countries like South Korea and leap straight into LTE-R.

This week the company published the tender material on its website for four phases of construction eventually covering 64,000km of track. The closing date for submissions is 20 April.

Once installed, Mr Vasant tells us, the LTE-R network will provide high-speed, on-board internet connectivity right across the vast, sprawling Indian Railways network. The trackside system will also enable on-train CCTV services and train and track condition monitoring services, as well as signalling services for train control.

According to Ashutosh, a 650km trial of the LTE-R services is currently underway along four separate stretches of track, each around 150km long. Based on the feedback from these trials, the company plans to float tenders for the entire network. Phase 1 will cover the ‘Golden Triangle’, which accounts for 75% to 80% of India Railways high-use and high revenue tracks, some 10,000km.

Previously RalTel and IR trialled satellite-delivered Wi-Fi services on Express trains between Delhi and Kolkata. However, according to Mr Vasant, these ran into cost and bandwidth issues, which forced RailTel to look elsewhere. The new LTE-R system will now form the bedrock of its network-wide on-board Wi-Fi services.

Meanwhile, the company is pressing ahead with its hugely ambitious station Wi-Fi project, which it launched with technical partners Google and the Department of Telecoms in 2014. Since then, RailTel has developed one of the world’s largest public Wi-Fi networks with some 26 million users logging-in per month, downloading 9,431TB of aggregated data consumption.

Initially, the project covered 98 stations but has since been rolled out to a further 711. In addition, 809 rural stations are being covered. By the end of this month, there will be some 1,500 stations offering high-speed free Wi-Fi to travellers. Eventuall,y the project will cover 4,200 stations.

Ingeniously, RailTel, which, Ashutosh stresses is the only Indian government company to be consistently profitable and debt-free, is offering its high-speed Internet connections to businesses, schools and colleges close to the stations via their retail brand Railwire. The company gives customers the chance to plug into RailTel’s massive fibre-optic backbone.

In effect, the high-speed Wi-Fi connections at the stations, all branded to Railwire, act as a marketing tool for the wider network services. The passengers can gain high-speed access, at speeds of 30Mbps to 40Mbps on the platform for the first 30 minutes, the service then reverts to a differentiated system for the next 24 hours, still free. However, the idea is that users will emerge from the journeys impressed by the speed of Railwire’s connections.

The company offers free content for schools and colleges on its websites, as well as providing access to many of the Indian Government’s digital services for the sub-continent’s huge population. Passengers also connect to Railwire to download movies, songs and games and stream high-definition videos, as well as engaging with work. The backbone network to each station is 1Gbps.

Ashutosh Vasant is to be one of the keynote speakers at this year’s Wi-Fi on Trains Conference. The Conference will discuss on-board Wi-Fi, trackside networks and the growing market for passenger Wi-Fi services and on-board entertainment and will take place in London on the 4-5 June.

For more information on the conference, please fill out the enquiry form on this page.