Google To Shut Down Free WiFi Project Globally, Including India The tech giant cites affordable mobile data plans and mobile connectivity improving globally, especially India, as the reason for exit planned over 2020

By Debroop Roy

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US technology giant Google will shut down its initiative "Station' to provide free Internet at multiple locations across the globe through 2020, the company said on Monday.

In a blog post, Google's vice-president for payments and next billion users, Caesar Sengupta said the partnership between the company, Indian railways and public sector unit Railtel, which had spurred interest from partners in other developing countries as well, made little sense now that mobile data had become cheaper.

Started in 2015, the idea was to provide free WiFi services in 400 railways stations across the country, a goal reached two years back. Since then, the company claims to have partnered to provide the services at thousands of other locations as well.

"We're grateful for these partnerships, especially with the Indian Railways and the government of India, that helped us serve millions of users over the last few years," Sengupta said.

No Interruptions

According to a statement by Railtel, the company said it would continue to service those stations even after Google exits.

"In this partnership Google provided the RAN (radio access network) and technology support and RailTel provided the physical infrastructure and internet bandwidth (ISP). But going forward, apart from these 415 stations, we have also provided free Wi-Fi in 5190 B, C, D stations as well," said the statement.

India's Internet Boom

Mukesh Ambani's ambitious plan with Reliance Jio in 2016 disrupted and changed the face of the Internet forever in the country. Since then, data has become several times cheaper and subsequently more accessible to those living in smaller cities, towns and villages, allowing a large pool of customers to surf the Web for the first time.

"Mobile data plans have become more affordable and mobile connectivity is improving globally. India, specifically now has among the cheapest mobile data per GB in the world, with mobile data prices having reduced by 95% in the last 5 years, as per TRAI in 2019," the statement from Google said.

It added that taking cue from the Indian government, governments and local entities abroad had also begun their own initiatives to provide easier, cost-effective access to the Internet for everyone.

Focus On India

Station is one of Google's many initiatives for the next billion Internet users and India being the large market that it is, the Alphabet company has taken up projects specifically aimed at tapping the underserved in the country.

Some of them include helping people search and use online tools in popularly spoken Indian languages, helping skill small businesses and women around the country as well as customizing many of its products to suit requirements.

The company said it was working with partners to transition existing locations so as to help them remain useful resources.
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Debroop Roy

Former Correspondent

Covering the start-up ecosystem in and around Bangalore. Formerly an energy reporter at Reuters. A film, cricket buff who also writes fiction on weekends.

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