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More than 2 million monthly users have accessed Google’s free high-speed*  WiFi service across 19 railway stations, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai said during an analyst call. He added that these users are consuming “as much as 15 times the data they would otherwise use in a full day on their cellular networks”. Last month, Google said that the free WiFi service was accessed by more than 1.5 million users, while being at just 20% of the roll out schedule for this year. Nikhil adds: the sceptic in me says that the numbers would have been much smaller, had this WiFi been a paid service. Of course, these numbers are likely to be higher than other free WiFi deployments, given that in comparison with some of the others, this one probably works.

In June, Google claimed that its service crossed 300,000 users per week, and that Bhubaneswar crossed 100,000 in a single day once. This data points towards the fact that India needs to have more high-speed public WiFi services, while broadband and mobile Internet speeds remain abysmal. TRAI said that the country had 16.13 million wired broadband connections by September 2015, while most of the ISPs other than BSNL barely had nothing close to 2 million.

wired-broadband-absymal

What people were using the WiFi for:  Google says it is planning to cover 400 stations in total, and last month it reported unexpected demand in Tier-2 cities like Bhubaneshwar, Patna, Jaipur, where getting high-speed broadband is difficult. The free WiFi service was mostly used to consume infotainment services, but Google said that many users in Tier 2 cities utilize the network to search and apply for jobs online. Students from Tier-2 cities came to the stations to search information on educational courses, exam results, downloading softwares and upgrading their phone apps.

TRAI’s WiFi consultation paper: The abysmal condition of broadband, and growing number of public WIFi services, seems to have raised concerns as the telecom regulator floated a public WiFi consultation paper last month, asking “how do we get WiFi hotposts everywhere in India?” It added that small entrepreneurs or even small shop owners could create hotpsots and earn profits from it. TRAI was essentially giving a broader expanse to “Public WiFi networks”, and said that it shouldn’t be limited to licensed TSP/ISPs only. The regulator also proposed creating a central platform for payments across different WiFi networks and introducing ‘pay-as-you-go’ method for users to attract more consumers into using public WiFi services.

Other public WiFi initiatives in India:

– In May, state owned telco BSNL said it extended its WiFi internet facility across 1,227 location by installing 2,505 Wi-Fi hotspots.
-In April, network providers including Techno Sat Comm and PING Network rolled out public WiFi service in Delhi metro across all stations including 222 trains, 187 stations
– The same month, Firefly Networks said it would provide WiFi internet access at Delhi’s Karkardooma Court Complex.
– In the same month, mobile payments and commerce company Paytm had started offering free WiFi service as a pilot project.
– In February, the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) said that it would launch WiFi at 144 major bus stations across the state.
– In January, Ortel Communications introduced free public WiFi hotspots for its broadband subscribers, as a value added service in Bhubaneswar.
– Internet service provider Joister also launched Joispot WiFi, a free public WiFi initiative in Mumbai, Thane, Navi Mumbai and Pune, with speeds of upto 2Mbps.
– The Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) and telecom operator Tata Docomo signed a partnership to offer free WiFi services.

Regarding Google’s High-speed claim: A report from Telecomtalk said Google’s Free WiFi service offered speeds above 8Mbps, which is quite impressive considering the amount of users latched on to the network.

Image Credits: Flickr user Dayna Bateman under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0