Google on Monday has officially confirmed that its free Wi-Fi service across railway stations in India will be discontinued in the coming months.
The search giant mentioned that it has decided to wind down the project called Station in India as well as globally, now that going online has become much easier and cheaper over the last five years. Apart from India, the program was made available in Nigeria, Thailand, Philippines, Mexico, Indonesia, Brazil and South Africa.
Google Station kicked off at the Mumbai Central station in 2016 in collaboration with telecom company RailTel and the Indian Railways. It was announced on 27 September 2015 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Google CEO Sundar Pichai.
The company’s lure of free Wi-Fi attracted millions to the network, but eventually the business model didn’t pan out the way Google had envisaged before its launch in 2016.
"“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.”" - Caesar Sengupta, VP - Payments and Next Billion Users, Google
But what about the thousands of Stations that are already available across the country? Google says those will continue to function and to make that happen it is working with partners to keep them running.
"“We are working with our partners to transition existing sites so they can remain useful resources for the community.”" - Caesar Sengupta, VP - Payments and Next Billion Users, Google
Now RailTel has officially confirmed it will be running the existing Wi-Fi stations without any help from Google or any other company. The company shared the details via this tweet on Monday:
Speaking to The Quint, back in 2016, Google had said it will partner with brands that are willing to sponsor its WiFi service. This way, consumers will not have to pay for the Internet provided. The same sponsor was expected to pay Google and in return they got to market themselves via ads on the web platform used by the public.
The latest statement suggests the project didn’t work out to be sustainable, that is it didn’t let Google make money to justify further expansion.
Focus on Other Products
With India’s data rates being the cheapest in the world, since the launch of Reliance Jio, people have probably switched to using mobile data over Wi-Fi wherever possible.
This change in trend has enabled Jio to become the leading telecom player in the country with over 350 million users on its 4G-only network. However, it’s likely that Google has seen active steps taken by the Indian government to set up its own Wi-Fi points across the country.
Piyush Goyal, Minister of Railways in 2018 had assured that around 6,000 railway stations will be Wi-Fi -enabled. We can’t confirm if those promises were fulfilled, but it’s easy to understand Google deciding to put a stop to its Wi-Fi project. So instead of expanding its focus on Station, Google will continue to invest in making products and features that cater to billions of users in the country.
"We see greater need and bigger opportunities in making building products and features tailored to work better for the next billion user markets. " - Caesar Sengupta, VP - Payments and Next Billion Users, Google
Earlier, Facebook too tried something like this with its free Express Internet project, but nothing materialised. And now Google is hoping the government will spearhead the Wi-Fi project in the country and connect more users to the internet for free, something that the Delhi government has been rolling out.
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