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Google to wind down free WiFi services globally

By Neha Alawadhi & Shine Jacob
February 25, 2020 22:31 IST
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Google had started the Station as a five-year partnership with the Indian Railways and RailTel in 2015 to provide fast, free WiFi in over 400 stations by mid-2020.

Wi-fi

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com

Google on Monday said it was winding down its Station programme as data was increasingly becoming more affordable and accessible.

The firm provided free WiFi services under the programme.

The internet giant had started the Station as a five-year partnership with the Indian Railways and RailTel in 2015 to provide fast, free WiFi in over 400 stations by mid-2020.

 

In 2016, Google expanded the programme, part of the internet giant’s Next Billion Users initiative, globally.

Caesar Sengupta, vice-president of payments and Next Billion Users, in the blogpost on Monday said: "Mobile data plans have become more affordable and connectivity is improving globally.

"India, specifically, now has among the cheapest mobile data per GB in the world, with prices having reduced by 95 per cent in the past five years, according to the Trai (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) in 2019.

"Today, Indian users consume close to 10 GB of data each month, on average."

He added that "the challenge of varying technical requirements and infrastructure among our partners across countries has also made it difficult for Station to scale and be sustainable, especially for our partners".

Google will wind down the programme globally, through this year.

"We are working with partners to transition existing sites, so they can remain useful resources for the communities," Sengupta said.

The winding down coincides with the company’s contract in India nearing its end.

The 400-station mark was crossed by June 2018.

After that, Google implemented Station in thousands of other spots around the country in partnership with telcos, internet service providers and local authorities.

RailTel started providing free WiFi at stations and Google was its technology partner for 415 A1, A, C category stations only.

Railtel, however, expanded the service to almost 5,190 B, C, D category stations.

"We roped in a number of partners along the journey.

"We entered into a five-year contract with Google for supporting us with setting up WiFi at 415 stations only, and the contract is going to expire soon," a Railtel official said.

RailTel said its effort in transforming stations into platforms for digital inclusion will continue and it would continue to provide free WiFi at the 415 stations where Google provided technological support.

The Next Billion Users initiative, which Sengupta heads, has built several India-first apps such as YouTube Go, Google Go, offline features (such as YouTube and Maps Offline), as well as country-specific products like Tez (now Google Pay India) and platforms like Android Go to bring lower-cost devices to customers.

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Neha Alawadhi & Shine Jacob in New Delhi
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