Google’s much-vaunted WiFi for passengers at railway stations in India will kick off this week.
The US-based online giant is working with Indian Railways’ RailTel Corporation to eventually offer WiFi at 400 stations nationwide. The wireless internet connections will be backed by RailTel’s huge fibre-optic infrastructure.
Its network currently covers some 26,000 miles of railway track snaking its way round the subcontinent. The company says it plans to increase this to 33,000 miles.
The first terminus to be WiFi-ed up will be Mumbai Central which sees almost 1,000 commuter and long-distance passenger trains come and go during an average day. It is estimated that some seven million commuters use the city’s suburban rail system daily, which gives some idea of the scale of the connectivity and bandwidth problems that the WiFi service will face.
For the moment, passenger internet access will be limited to train stations, with 100 of the largest ones being targeted in the initial stages.
However, Indian Railways has ambitious plans to offer on-train passenger WiFi in the near future. The Google-backed station roll-out was announced in September 2015 when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the tech company’s sprawling US campus.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote on his company’s official blog: "Best of all, the service will be free to start, with the long-term goal of making it self-sustainable to allow for expansion to more stations and other places, with RailTel and more partners, in the future."
It is not yet clear how long the service will remain free. Google has made no secret of the fact that it plans to at least recoup some of the costs, though whether this will come through subscriptions or via the more likely online advertising route remains to be seen.
Indian Railways will be one of the main presenters at this year’s WiFi on Trains Conference, hosted by BWCS.
The conference will examine the expanding market for on-board WiFi services, as well as the problems of intermittent mobile coverage and proposed trackside solutions.