Google ‘winding down’ free public Wi-Fi service at Indian railway stations

Google had launched ‘Google Station’ programme in 2015 with an objective to provide free Wi-Fi at 400 railway stations across India. Since then, mobile data plans have become cheaper while connectivity has also improved – one of the primary reasons why Google is ‘winding down’ the project.

Google pulls the plug on Google Station

Google on Monday said it is 'winding down' its Google Station programme under which it provided free Wi-Fi services at railway stations. The company said that mobile data plans have become more affordable and connectivity has improved. With more users using mobile data, Google said it was difficult for the Google Station to scale and be sustainable, especially for its partners.

"As we look to the next phase of enabling access, it's clear that since we started five years ago, getting online has become much simpler and cheaper. Mobile data plans have become more affordable and mobile connectivity is improving globally. 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 5 years, as per TRAI in 2019. Today, Indian users consume close to 10 GB of data, each month, on average. And similar to what the Indian government did, several governments and local entities have kicked off their own initiatives to provide easier, cost-effective access to the internet for everyone," said the company in a blog post.

"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. And when we evaluate where we can truly make an impact in the future, we see greater need and bigger opportunities in building products and features tailored to work better for the next billion user markets," it added.

Google had announced 'Google Station' programme in September 2015 with an objective to provide free Wi-Fi at 400 railway stations across India. The company used RailTel's large-scale network to provide the connectivity. Google successfully completed the project in June 2018. Google Station's success in India encouraged the company to experiment with similar programmes in markets such as Indonesia and Mexico.

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According to data shared by Google in 2018, Google Station had close to 8 million monthly active users across 400 stations. The data showed the consumption was much higher in tier 2 cities while average data consumption stood at 350MB.

As acknowledged by Google, mobile data and connectivity have indeed improved in the country since 2015. Thanks to Reliance Jio, users are now able to access more data at much cheaper prices. TechCrunch in its report points out that Google looked for alternatives to make money from its project. One of the experiments included serving users with advertisements.

"We are working with our partners to transition existing sites so they can remain useful resources for the community," said Google in its latest post.

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