Google’s free wifi is becoming a way of life in India

Browse to your heart’s content.
Browse to your heart’s content.
Image: AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

American internet search giant Google has completed the rollout of one of the world’s biggest public wifi projects in India.

On June 07, Google said it now offers free high-speed public wifi at 400 railway stations in Asia’s third-largest economy, in partnership with the government-owned Indian Railways and RailTel, which operates a fibre network along the country’s massive network of train tracks.

The company had announced the initiative back in 2015 during prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit to its headquarters in Mountain View, California. The Mumbai Central station in India’s financial capital was the first to get the facility in January 2016.

Now, over 8 million people use the service, Google said in a blog post. “On average, people consume 350MB of data per session, roughly the size of a half-hour television episode, and over half of the people using Google Station engage in multiple online sessions a day,” the company said.

The internet speed Google provides at the stations is faster than several paid services available in India. Free public wifi “has a time limit, not a download limit. I believe you get timed out after an hour or so. But with these speeds, you can download a hell of a lot in an hour,” a Reddit user noted in January 2016.

Although India is the world’s second-largest smartphone market and internet costs here have been falling, speed remains a big problem. The country’s 4.1 megabits per second (mbps) average internet speed is Asia’s slowest.

In the blog post announcing the completion of the project, Google shared stories of people who have benefitted from it. The list includes Shrinath, a porter at the Ernakulam Junction station in the southern state of Kerala, who used the facility to study online and prepare for the Kerala Public Service entrance examination.

In recent months, the company has been working to take its Google Stations programme outside railway stations to spaces like gardens, hospitals, police stations, and offices. In January, it said it had piloted the project with hotspots in the western Indian city of Pune, Maharashtra.

“We realise that not everyone in India lives or works near a train station,” Google said in the blog post, “So we’re moving beyond train stations and into the rest of the cities.”