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400 stations done, Google to end its free WiFi journey

Representative Image
New Delhi: Technology giant Google will gradually wind up its free WiFi, or Station, programme globally this year, the company said. The company had successfully provided free internet access to 400 railway stations in the country over the past five years.

Google said in a blog post on Monday that getting online has become simpler and cheaper since it started the programme five years ago. “India, specifically now, has among the cheapest mobile data per GB in the world, with mobile data prices having reduced by 95% in the last five years, as per Trai (telecom regulator) in 2019. Today, Indian users consume close to 10 GB of data, each month, on average,” said Caesar Sengupta, VP - Payments and Next Billion Users, Google.

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Google launched Station in India in 2015 in partnership with the Indian Railways and Railtel to bring fast, free public WiFi to over 400 of the busiest railway stations. It crossed that number in June 2018.

While the Railways provided fibre connectivity, Google was responsible for installing and maintaining the access points and running the software.

The Railways has since launched an initiative to connect more stations on its own and has connected 5,500 stations with other partners, including Tata Trust and Power Grid Corp.

Union Railways Minister Piyush Goyal said last week that the government was thinking of allowing people residing near the railway stations to also use the facility.

Google has also been running the Station project in a few locations in Pune and Bengaluru and had announced a partnership with state-owned BSNL to extend it to more areas. After launching in India, Google started a similar initiative in Mexico, Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia.

Several governments and local entities have kicked off their own initiatives to provide easier, cost-effective access to the internet for everyone, just like the India government had done, Sengupta said. “In addition to this changed context, 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,” he said.

Google is working with partners to transition existing sites so that they remain useful resources for the community, he added.
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