Here's what the free Wi-Fi commitment to Indian Railways probably costs Google

During the on-going visit by Modi to the Silicon Valley, Google announced that it would be partnering with Indian Railways to offer free high speed internet initially across 100 railway stations, and then 500 in India.

During the on-going visit by Modi to the Silicon Valley, Google announced that it would be partnering with Indian Railways to offer free high speed internet initially across 100 railway stations, and then 500 in India.

Although the service is supposed to be free, a few questions have been raised by users on Twitter. Here’s how a few users responded to the report.

To get an idea of the investment put in, given the scale of it, it probably is negligible. Also, Google is offering it as a free service, so it really depends on whether there would be any expenditure by the government. An Indian telecom operator (on an average) charges between Rs 3799 to Rs 11000 per month, for a 100 Mbps broadband connection. The range in the price is due to the data cap offered. The highest currently offered is 1000 GB. Beyond the cap, the connection switches to a 1 Mbps connection which is unlimited.

Here's why that's not a good option

A suburban station such as Dadar in Mumbai is frequented by approximately 5 lakh passengers per day. Thankfully, not all the 100 stations mentioned by Google handle such kind of passenger traffic. Another major station in Maharashtra – Nagpur Railway Station – processes approximately 1.6 lakh passengers daily. Despite being a prominent city, Nagpur Railway Station handles less than half the number of passengers than a suburban station in Mumbai. In fact, it handles 32 percent of Dadar's daily passenger traffic to be precise.

According to the Google blog, it states that even with 100 stations going online, that puts the potential audience for the free Wi-Fi service at 10 million. This works to one lakh daily passengers per day.

Understanding the Indian demographic

According to an IAMAI-IMRB report, India is expected to have 213 million mobile internet users. That's effectively 17 percent of India's population. For the sake of convenience, we could assume that the mix would relatively stay the same. In fact, it could be conveniently assumed that the percentage of feature phones and non-internet connected devices would be higher around railway stations, as compared to airports.

If we assume 17 percent, then the average number of passengers around an Indian railway station would be 17,000 users! We could assume that approximately 20,000 users would have the capability to logon to the Wi-Fi network. But that would mean all passengers with the capability to connect to the internet would avail the facility. Even if that happens, it works to approximately 50Kbps per user. However, these are ideal case scenarios. In reality, the number of users who login would be far lesser.

Google Fiber price

Google offers 1 Gbps ultra high speed internet via Google Fiber in the US.

In the US, Google has been offering free Wi-Fi to select cities via its Google Fiber program. According to the Google website, it offers 1000 Mbps for $130, but that also includes a TV set top box, TV content of 150+ channels and 1 TB of cloud storage space. Since Google only needs to provide internet connectivity, this price falls further. Again for the sake of convenience, let's consider that figure to be $100 or approximately Rs 6600. To cover 100 stations, that's Rs 6,60,000.

Now every additional investment made would be towards enhancing the browsing experience while on the Google network. This would mean providing 10Gbps at some stations and lesser at certain other stations. Given the costs associated, couldn't the Indian Railways make such a service available in all these years?

We may never know the real numbers. But from our estimates, this is definitely something India could do. We certainly possess the capabilities to do so. As a user rightly questioned, couldn't it have been an Indian telecom operator that took this as a responsibility?

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