After the successful experiment of deploying free public Wi-Fi at railway stations of India, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ambitious Digital India initiative, Google is now planning to go a step higher with the introduction of public Wi-fi across the country. 

Google revealed on Wednesday that it was in talks with multiple entities, including telecom companies, to carry out the plan. "We are constantly looking at other areas. We are talking to a lot of people, including telcos," said Google India director-partnership, Next Billion Users, K Suri.  

The tech giant had partnered with broadband and VPN service-provider, RailTel to provide high-speed Wi-Fi in 400 railway stations of the country. The project launched in January 2016 was offered as a free service under the brand name 'RailWire' and witnessed large-scale adoption, especially at stations in smaller cities like Allahabad, Gorakhpur, Gaya, Kanpur, Vizag, Vijayawada, Jaipur, Bilaspur, Bhagalpur, Vadodara, Gwalior and Pune. About 1.5 percent of the daily users were first time Internet users, according to an Analysys Mason study commissioned by Google itself. 

Google's wireless infrastructure was built on top of the nationawide optic fibre network provided by RailTel. Under the RailWire project, users can consume free Wi-Fi for 30 minutes, and it is seen that they typically consume 350 MB of data on an average per session. Most users are in the 19-35 age bracket and 35 percent of the users are first-time Wi-Fi users. The success of this project led Google to take it to the Indonesian and Mexican markets as well.

Indian Railways has planned to make all 8,500 stations in the country, including rural and remote stations, Wi-Fi-enabled by March 2019 at an estimated cost of Rs 700 crore. As part of the plan, rural stations would have kiosks with Wi-Fi facility, which would act as digital hotspots and allow the local populace to take the benefit of services digital banking, Aadhaar-generation, filing taxes and paying bills and issuing government certificates, including birth and death certificates, so on and so forth. 

The Next Billion Users initiative seeks to expand the RailWire project to beyond railway stations. Moreover, under the Google Station service, Wi-Fi hotspots are to be created in places like malls, transit stations, cafes and universities.

The Analysys Mason estimates that 40 million new users would be brought under the ambit of internet connectivity by 2019, which would boost the GDP by nearly $20 billion. This would result in around 100 million people spending an additional $2-3 billion every year on handsets, the report said. They would be willing to spend a similar amount on cellular mobile broadband services.

Under the draft National Digital Communications Policy, the government looks to reach 5 million access points in 2020 and 10 million in 2022, to provide an all-pervasive coverage and internet connectivity for 600 million Indians.
Talking about the report, Suri said despite the strong growth in Internet user base (316 million at the end of 2017), mobile broadband penetration in India still remained low at 31 percent (2017-end). He added that there is an opportunity to develop a wider connectivity ecosystem with public Wi-Fi as a key component that can benefit users, internet service providers (ISPs), telecom service providers, handset manufacturers and venue owners.

Suri said the scale of the Google-Railtel project is a proof of concept which demonstrates that fast and affordable public Wi-Fi can help in bringing more people online. He stated that on average, users were consuming over 300MB on the Railtel Wi-Fi to watch videos, access social media, search, buying tickets and online banking among other uses.