Delayed trains are one of the most common hassles Indian passengers have to deal with. And the only remedy to it is killing time. And in this modern age, there’s only one way to kill time Wi-Fi. However, looking at applications beyond entertainment and social media, Google has partnered with RailTel to install free public Wi-Fi ‘Railwire’ at hundreds of railway stations in the country. Also Read - Android brings Schedule Messages, Password Checkup and many more nifty features
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Railwire is the free public Wi-Fi service, developed by Google and RailTel for railway stations across the country. The service is already up and running at 140 stations in cities including New Delhi, Mumbai, Patna, Ooty, and Jaipur. The plan is to extend the service to 400 more stations in India by the end of 2018. Also Read - Google Pixel smartphone saves injured man from overturned commercial vehicle
How does it work?
Just like you walk into a coffee shop to enjoy its free Wi-Fi, the Railwire Wi-Fi also promises a similar experience at railway stations at no cost. All you need to do is sign in through the Railwire portal which will be prompted when you connect to the service. You will be required to put your mobile number, an OTP will be sent to the number, and upon verification, you will be able to use the service for free. According to Google India’s Head of Connectivity, Gulzar Azad, for the first 30 minutes, a user will be delivered high speeds and after the initial cap, there will be connectivity but at reduced speeds. This is to ensure new users are able to seamlessly latch onto the service and there is easy flow of traffic on the network.
Does it ‘really’ work?
I visited one of the busiest stations, Hazrat Nizamuddin, in Delhi and was there for over two hours to experience Railwire. Being the first-time user, I was taken aback by the seamless connectivity. Not only was I able to connect instantly to the network, but I was also able to stream full HD videos on YouTube. Videos are certainly one of the most annoying activities to carry out on shared connections. However, despite being the free, public Wi-Fi, the videos buffered almost immediately. I also compared the buffering speed with my existing Vodafone 4G network and clearly, the latter did not provide a smooth experience with the same video.
Passengers at the station, who are aware of the service on offer, along with vendors, shared their experience of using the free service. While most of them were quite positive of the speed and access, some highlighted how the connectivity is robust in certain areas at the station. ALSO READ: Google Maps now lets you locate public toilets around you
According to Google, there are multiple access points at these stations, usually located at a distance of 50 meters. However, what caveat here is the lack of awareness. At the moment, if you visit any of the railway stations which are connected with Google’s free Wi-Fi, you won’t see any explicit branding or promotion around. There is no information outside the station, whatever little branding done is located on the bridge or platforms on a small, easy-to-miss board.
Can I access everything?
Currently, there is no limitation to the kind of content accessible to users; even if you are of the kind to be at a public place and look up for content not so apt for a railway station. When asked about content cap on the free Wi-Fi service, given there is no limit on time, RailTel spokesperson, Sucharita Pradhan, said that as of now, users can access the whole of the web, without any restriction. However, the government is reportedly working on framing guidelines on free Wi-Fi at public places, so in the near future, there might be restrictions on the kind of content that is consumed with such services. ALSO READ: Free Wi-Fi service at Patna railway station mostly used to watch porn: RailTel
It is also worth mentioning that Google’s idea behind connecting places like a railway station, which sees millions in footfall every day, to the internet is to aid in use beyond entertainment. The aim is to build an ecosystem where users can make use of the free internet for education, productivity, train-related information, cab booking, etc. even during the short while they spend at the station.
Why it makes sense?
The Railwire project is a very smart project because unlike malls or coffee shops where people spend hours, the footfall at railway stations is much more dynamic in nature. At present, an estimated 6.5 billion people use Google’s free Wi-Fi service per month. Given the government’s involvement in the project and Google’s expertise, it is possible to scale up the service without damaging the quality.
Additionally, for passengers who are waiting for a train to board, it is a matter of just a few minutes or limited number of hours that they might need internet connectivity for; be it for social media, sending that one important mail, etc. So for example, if you are travelling to a new city and are on a prepaid network, internet costs can get expensive over roaming. In such a scenario, something like Railwire can come to the rescue and offer free and fast connectivity to help you book a cab or send a quick WhatsApp to someone.