By Prarthana Mitra
Google’s project to WiFi-enable railway stations in India reached a new milestone on Thursday. The United States-based search engine issued a public statement saying that the project has managed to provide free internet to 8 million people on a monthly average, for the first time since its inception in 2016.
Here’s what happened
Launched as a key initiative under the Digital India programme, the project took off at Mumbai Central station in 2016. Assam’s Dibrugarh station became the 400th addition to the project on Thursday, thus enabling Google to achieve its 8-million mark.
The Google Station project to strengthen wireless infrastructure in developing countries including Indonesia and Mexico was first pitched in 2015 in India. Soon after the project formulated a partnership with the India telecommunications company RailTel (which developed the optic fibre network that made this feat possible) and the country’s national railway service, Indian Railways.
The project primarily envisioned better connectivity in regions with sporadic access to the internet, as well as a means for Google to generate revenue through online advertising and grow its presence in the country.
Why you should care
Accomplishing the target of 8 million users is no cakewalk, especially when similar efforts by Facebook and Bharti Airtel in the past failed to generate the desired results.
Google released the figures this week, which indicates that users consume 350 megabytes (MB) of data per session with half going online via the WiFi program at least twice per day. This certainly underscores the massive demand for connectivity and stable internet across the younger demographic (19-34 years), who are also among the ones who avail railway services to travel.
“India has the second largest population of internet users in the world, but there are still almost a billion Indians who aren’t online,” said Caesar Sengupta, VP of Google’s Next Billion team. “There are millions of other life-changing journeys that still haven’t been taken. We realize that not everyone in India lives or works near a train station,” he wrote in a blog post.
Calling it a lighthouse project for India, Google India Director Partnership Next Billion Users K Suri said that it was a necessary measure for every growing economy that is “looking to bring the benefit of connectivity to everyone in their country.”
Whether Google will monetise this project in the future remains to be seen. But for now, Google wants to follow its impressive stint at stations with adding free WiFi to other connection points across India.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius