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The Surge Of Internet In India Internet Internet everywhere!

By Ritu Kochar

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If we look at the present scenario, the world is being raised on the internet. No one could have said it better when Eric Schmidt said, "Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn't understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had." And it is this anarchy which will decide the future of the world.

India holds the second largest Internet user base of the world. With an estimate of reaching 462 million Internet users as of July 1, 2016, these are just the early years for India's internet revolution as only 38% of our population is currently using the internet. Imagine where we would be when we reach at least 80%.

It is this possibility that has been attracting international honchos like Facebook, Microsoft, Google and what have you towards India. The one who makes opportunities for themselves and grabs them at the right time will come out as the winner.

Google's Free Wifi Initiative In India

This is the enthusiasm which has resulted in Google extending free internet service through WiFi to 10 railway stations in India. As part of its tie up with Railtel, the internet provider arm of Indian Railways, Google already launched the service at Mumbai Central last year. This time, their aim is to significantly increase the number of users by providing internet to 1.5 million people. For this, Google has planned to cover stations in Pune, Bhubaneshwar, Bhopal, Ranchi, Raipur, Vijayawada, Kacheguda (Hyderabad), Ernakulum Jn (Kochi) and Vishakhapatnam.

"As internet adoption grows in India, easy and affordable access to high-speed networks is the real need of the hour," said Gulzar Azad, Head of Access Project at Google India. He further added by saying, "We are scaling up our efforts to roll out the network quickly to cover some of smaller stations where connectivity is much more limited."

Following the announcement by CEO Sundar Pichai during his visit in December 2015's to India, Google and RailTel targeted to cover 100 busiest railway stations by the end of this year itself. Already covering a fifth of the number, the rest 300 stations will get the connectivity in the second phase.

Chairman and Managing Director of Railtel, RK Bahuguna said, "As outlined by the Hon'ble Minister of Railways Shri Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu, - modernising and improving the amenities available to passengers of Indian Railways is big part of our focus."

While the service will be free for a reasonable amount of time, the long-term goal is to make this project self-sustainable to allow for expansion to more stations and places, with RailTel and other partners, the chairman added.

Free WiFi spots by Paytm

Following Google's lead, now Paytm will also be installing free WiFi hotspots at metro stations in Delhi. Starting with Noida Sector 18's station, the news was announced by CEO, Vijay Shekhar Sharma on Twitter. Though everyone had their doubts that Internet will only accessible for Paytm app, Vijay cleared those as well by saying, "it will be equal, open and free internet for apps not just Paytm."

Talking about this new initiative, Vijay Shekhar Sharma told the ET, "We are building avenues for our merchants and consumers who do not have access to Internet at all times to stay connected with Paytm. Initially we are looking at metros because they are key locations for our consumers and our merchants, especially the auto-rickshaw walas."

Other internet providers

Many service providers have been able offer free hot spots around Delhi-NCR. With government promising to increase connectivity, firms like Tata Docomo and Vodafone have been great help to expand the service to popular shopping zones such as Khan Market and Connaught Place. Ozone has been doing the same for cafes and railway stations. The startup deployed 2,000 public WiFi hotspots in educational institutions, hospitals, and hotels across major cities of India. Some of them include McDonalds, Costa Coffee, Oberoi hotels, Barista coffee, Mumbai airport, Apollo hospitals, and Hauz Kaus village. It claims 2.5 million people connect to Ozone hotspots every month and aims to reach 500,000 to 1 million hotspots by 2020.

MTS had also introduced a similar WiFi service in Rapid Metro Gurgaon, however, other metro stations in Delhi are yet to get such service. Last year Ola and Uber also started offering free Wifi to their customers in cabs. Ola has been offering free WiFi in its premium taxi rides through Ola Prime. Uber had also partnered with Airtel to offer free 4G WiFi to its customers in Mumbai and plans to roll out these services to other cities as well.

So, what's the hurry?

When it comes to development, the importance of internet connectivity is quite evident. It's not just a freebie, but behind it lays a brilliant marketing strategy.

With 204.1 million Smartphone users, India is likely to overtake the US as the second largest market for Smartphone in the world by 2016 as smart mobile devices become affordable (global research firm eMarketer). More Smartphone means more internet usage.

Starting with railway station, Indian railways are one of the largest transport networks in the world. With over 12,000 trains carrying 23 million passengers per day and connecting about 8,000 stations, the railway stations are a hub for passengers coming from various parts of the country. It is this population Google wants to target.

With internet available, not only will it be a source of recreation with casual browsing, but also very useful for getting details about the trains and transportation in general. Using Google as search engine, it is bound to increase Google's traffic. Given that a large part of Google's revenue comes from online advertisements, the relational being directly proportional will mechanically increase Google's returns.

For Paytm it does the same. More internet users mean more people will become familiar with Paytm and understand how it can benefit them. Over 20 lakh people travel by metro every day and as they expand to other metro station, so will their user base. Still at beta version, though the service is free for now, they will be expecting the customers to buy the service in the future.

As Sanjeev Bobby Sarin, Founder and CEO of Ozone Networks said, "Wi-Fi is going to be a key building block in India's digital empowerment." And this development will be a collective development of Indian Industries, foreign industries, and of course, the people of India.

Ritu Kochar

Former Staff, Entrepreneur India

Ritu used to work as a Feature writer for Entrepreneur India.

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