Google has announced that it will tie-up with the Indian Railways and RailTel to provide high speed WiFi coverage in 400 stations across India. The company mentions that the WiFi will be provided for free at the start, the with long-term goal of making it self-sustainable.

According to the company, it will begin the rollout starting at 100 stations across the country, with this batch expected to be completed by the end of 2016. It mentions that the first few stations should get WiFi coverage in the next few months. The remaining 300 stations will follow in ‘quick succession’, but there is no timeline given for it. Interestingly, Google mentions that it will sign up with partners other than RailTel in the future as well.

Note that Google did not say how it will actually make the platform self-sustainable. We imagine it will come up with some sort of a ‘free for 20 mins then pay for topups’ kind of plan. We wonder if the company will be then tempted to offer its own services for free, while asking the user to shell out money to access other websites. This will resoundingly violate net neutrality principles. We have mailed Google a few questions about the initiative, and we’ll update in case Google responds:

– How will Google monetize the WiFi services at the railway stations?

– Will Google services continue to be free to use if users do not switch to a paid plan?

– Is Google planning to launch Zero Rating services with the Marshmallow update for Android?

– What are Google’s views on Facebook’s “Free Basics” service?

The public Wifi space has been really picking up steam in India, although questions over security and privacy remain. The rising interest in public WiFi is helped by the fact that mobile data charges keep getting higher while smartphone adoption is at an all time high.

Other public WiFi initiatives:

– In July, Amazon offered free WiFi internet with unlimited usage across select bus stops in Hyderabad, Pune and Chennai, as a temporary campaign.

– In June, Airtel won the mandate for the launch of Wi-Fi services in Gurgaon from the Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon (MCG).

– The same month, state-run telecom operator BSNL tied up with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to provide WiFi hotspots for tourists at the Taj Mahal.

– It’s worth noting that Airtel had piloted Wifi at Cyberhub in Gurgaon for a while, and its competitor Vodafone provided WiFi at a metro station near Cyberhub. The two have a joint venture, FireFly Networks, and had recently installed WiFi services at the Supreme Court of India. You can read more about this here.

– In April, Airtel also sought permission from the West Bengal government to set up Wi-Fi hotspots across Kolkata in competition with Reliance Jio, which had tied-up with the West Bengal government to introduce 4G-enabled free Wi-Fi service in some parts of the city.

– Sistema Shyam, which operates under the MTS brand in India, tied up with Indian Railways in April this year, to offer WiFi services at railway stations across India.

– In November last year, Tata Docomo tied-up with the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) to launch public Wi-Fi service in the Connaught Place area in Delhi.

– BSNL launched free WiFi in Varanasi in February this year.

Free Wifi was launched in Patna in February last year.

– Apart from cities and towns, in the previous year, the citizens of Trikaripur village in Kasaragod district of Kerala got access to free Wi-Fi connectivity on their mobile phones through an optical fiber network of state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL).

– In January last year, Bangalore had become the first city to have free WiFi hotspots called Namma WiFi, on M G Road, Brigade Road and four other locations in Bangalore.

– In April this year, Hyderabad became the first city in the south zone to have BSNL Wifi internet.