Providing high-speed public Wi-Fi to citizens across 400 train stations was launched as a key initiative under government’s Digital India program by RailTel ( a CPSE of Indian Railways) in partnership with Google. Announced by Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, Sh. Narendra Modi and Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, the project have succeeded in its mission of bringing connectivity to millions of unconnected Indians, leveraging on the nation-wide optic fiber network backbone created by Railtel.
Starting from the launch by the then Hon’ble Minister of Railways at Mumbai Central in January 2016, Google designed and deployed the wireless infrastructure on top of fiber optical network in the station created by RailTel. Offered as a free utility service under the brand name “RailWire” to millions of commuters who travel through stations every day, the service saw instant adoption by users as the project gained scale and momentum. Within the first year of the project, 100 of the busiest railway stations across India were brought online-enabling 15000 people to experience the internet for the first time every day. In the last year and a half, 300 new stations were added across the length and breadth of the country, with Dibrugarh becoming the 400th stations to go live today in the state of Assam.
On the successful completion of the project, K. Suri, Director, Partnership, India, Next Billion Users, Google India, said, “Bringing high-speed connectivity to millions of Indians across train station, has been an incredible journey and underscores the importance of investing in public Wi-Fi as a crucial step in getting high quality internet to everyone in India. 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. We’re thankful to India Railways for their vision and the support from RailTel to deploy a world class public Wi-Fi service- to bring every Indian a fast broadband service so that they can experience the best of the web.”
Talking about the project, K. Manohar Raja, Executive Director/ Enterprise Business, RailTel, said “Railway stations are a microcosm that is India and creating a digital inclusion platform is in line with the vision of our Honorable Prime Minister and Digital India initiatives of the Ministry of Railways. As the internet is becoming an increasingly video focussed network, the majority of Indians access internet on mobile networks with varying experiences and our endeavor has been to bridge the experience divide by providing one of the fastest public wi-fi networks in the world. The statistics of the usage, as well as the heart-warming stories we hear, has really validated our beliefs on empowering the people by providing high-speed internet access”
With thirty minutes of free access to the internet, user on an average consumes 350 MB of data per session. While the majority of the users are in the 19-34 age group, efforts to help older and first time users of the internet with on ground support staff has helped millions of users experience the internet for the first time.
Over 35% of users on the network are first time Wi-Fi users. Interestingly, over 50% of users access the internet multiple times in a day-highlights regular usage by users who work of pursue their occupation from the train stations.
One such heart-warming story is that of Srinath, a porter from Idukki in Kerala, who used free Wi-Fi at Cochin railway station to prepare for his written test for the Kerala Public Service Commission and cleared it. Others like Helen- who is an auto rickshaw driver, used the Wi-Fi to help her son with his education and is learning new things herself every day, and then Naresh Babu- a martial arts teacher who uses wi-fi learn new techniques and is teaching young girls and boys the art of self-defense, whilst also uploading his videos online to promote his training center.
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. Google Station, the public Wi-Fi platform, that amplifies Google’s vision to bring the best in class Wi-Fi experience to more places, is now also live in Pune.
RailTel is exploring sustainable ways to provide Wi-Fi across all stations on Indian Railways and also spread high speed connectivity to homes by the collaborative entrepreneurship model of RailWire.