Millions of people will not be able to use the free WiFi available at over 400 railway stations and thousands of locations in India as Google has decided to pull the plug on its on its WiFi Station programme globally. Apart from India, the programme is underway in Brazil, South Africa, Nigeria, Thailand, the Philippines, Mexico, Indonesia, and Vietnam. The company says it will gradually wind down the programme globally, through 2020.
Google started the programme with a motive of giving internet connections to those who can’t afford it. Citing Ericsson Mobility Report 2019, the company said that in India getting online has become much simpler and cheaper. It added that mobile data plans have become more affordable and mobile connectivity is improving globally. Hence, it has decided to wind up the operations all over the world.
‘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,’ Caesar Sengupta, Vice President, Payments and Next Billion Users at Google, said in a statement.
With its Next Billion Users initiative, Google provides technical solutions to help those users who do not have internet access get more from the web. For this, Google has built lite apps (YouTube Go, Google Go and more), offline features (such as YouTube and Maps Offline), to country-specific products like Tez (now Google Pay India) and platforms like Android Go OS to bring lower-cost devices to customers. Google Station is one such effort.
As mentioned, the programme was launched in India in 2015. Google partnered with Indian Railways and Railtel to bring fast, free public WiFi to over 400 of the busiest railway stations in India by mid-2020. However, the company crossed that number by June 2018 and expanded the programme in thousands of other locations around the country in partnership with telecommunications companies, ISPs and local authorities.