In September 2015, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced a new project aimed at ensuring free Wi-Fi at 400 railway stations across India. Google completed the project in June this year with the announcement that Assam’s Dibrugarh railway station has become the 400th station to avail of the service. Google is now using the project, which was later productised as Google Station, as a proof-of-concept to stress the need for establishing a robust Wi-Fi ecosystem in India.
The company used India’s learning to expand the “Google Station” to two more markets: Indonesia and Mexico. One of Google’s key findings was that Indians have a large appetite for free data. For instance, it registered an average consumption of 300MB of data per session (roughly 30 minutes). In comparison with Reliance Jio’s average consumption of 560MB of data per day, Google technically has higher usage.
Not that the concept of a Wi-Fi ecosystem hasn’t been around, but Google believes it can help pave the way for bringing internet connectivity to “the next billion”. Google has deployed its technology onto the existing RailTel fibre network, which already has massive coverage in the country. Facebook also experimented with something similar.
With Google not looking to become a Wi-Fi Internet Service Provider (ISP) or ISP in India, the company heavily relies on existing players to scale its Wi-Fi networks. However, this will make it difficult for the Internet company to re-create the success of Google Station in India. For instance, it will have to partner with a number of smaller and bigger players in the telecom industry to just bring about a coherent Wi-Fi network.
Addressing a media briefing in Delhi on Wednesday, Google’s senior executive Suryanarayana Kodukulla said the Internet company is already in talks with Indian telecom players to launch Wi-Fi in more places. He said Google is “constantly in touch” with stakeholders in the industry.
Google’s biggest roadblock is the lack of necessary regulatory policies for the Wi-Fi ecosystem. It wants the government to fix issues relating to policies, spectrum, licensing and sharing of infrastructure, besides payment and authentication.