Most of you, by now, must have learnt that Google is going to kick off its free WiFi service at railway stations in India from January next year - with a goal to provide services at 100 stations by end of 2016, but there still are a few things that is not widely known about the ambitious RailWire project.
On the sidelines of the Google for India event on December 16 in New Delhi, IBNLive spoke to Marian Croak, VP (access strategy and emerging markets) at Google, and the company’s head of access programs in India Gulzar Azad, who has been working on the RailWire WiFi partnership initiative to bring public Internet access to hundreds of railway stations across India.
Gulzar and Marian not only shared interesting facts about the much-talked about project, but also answered to a lot of queries concerning the speed of the Internet, technology used, and the approach as to how stations are being picked for the project, among others.
Here are some interesting facts about Google's RailWire WiFi project in India that you perhaps didn’t know about:
1. The first station that Google has chosen to provide free WiFi services is Mumbai Central, which is currently under testing. The company says it will open it to the public in January 2016. Thereafter, the company will add a bunch of stations every quarter, with the goal of having 100 stations ready to launch by the end of 2016. These would be the 100 busiest stations in the country.
2. While Gulzar refused to share any list as to what all stations are lined up next, he shared the approach that Google has decided to opt for the project (IBNLive had put together a map mashup that gave a fair idea about which stations could be among the first 100). “We are going for all the zones of the Indian Railways. There are 16 zones of the Indian railways and in the next lot, we hope to have one station from every zone of the railways,” he revealed, adding, as they go towards each railway zone, they will work with the regional railways to pick one station out of that zone.
3. When asked about the speed that can be expected at stations, Gulzar preferred to stay away from quoting any numbers, but firmly said, the speed will be much faster than the average speed that we experience in India.
When prodded further, he answered in a roundabout way and said, “if you think of the outcome, people will be able to come there (at stations) and watch HD quality videos.”
“That is the idea and that is what we are guided by. So if it takes for us to densify the WiFi network and/or enable more backhaul, we will do that. The idea is to make sure that people are able to access high-definition content.”
4. In line with our assumptions, the Internet service at stations will not offer the same speed throughout the period it is accessed. While it will remain free for the entire duration, the high speed will be delivered only for the first hour. And after that, as Gulzar said, “we will put the speed to something that is nominal and supportable.”
Justifying the objective behind this model, Gulzar said that the idea is to make sure that this public WiFi stays self sustainable. “This has been one of the goals that we have as we deploy it. Because this is not just about 100 stations or 500. The country has more than 7000 stations. Therefore, it is very important that this remains self sustainable, financially. So we are going to build a model which helps achieve that in future. We might also try different models in future,” he explained, adding, “I have just explained one model, we might have different models in place.”
The Internet access at stations will be free in entirety. The access is time bound in terms of speed - and not accessibility. After the first hour of use, the speed will go down, but users will be able to access the Internet - however, at relatively slower speeds. But note that there would be no paywall after the first hour, as with many other public WiFi services.
5. As stations are public places and are flocked by a huge number people everyday, we asked them to shed some light on the performance that the service could show,
to which Marian said that the performance is based on the number of people using a shared infrastructure. So initially, it will be extremely fast, as they had tested so far. “As more and more people start to use, which we hope they will eventually, so you can expect the speed to slow down. But as it starts to happen, we will immediately deploy more access points so that the speed maintains at a certain service level,” he said.
When asked her about the number of access points the company is starting off with, Marian said, that there while is a specific number that they have used, she wasn’t in a position to share that.
She further explained that as each railway station is different, “we have performance and network engineers to ascertain the number of access points that are needed to give each user the best experience.”
6. Public WiFis are already offered at many places in India but what makes Google’s project promising is the use of technology. In other words, public WiFis offered are based on a number of technologies - DSL backhaul or cable backhaul or point-to-point wireless, but the one that Google is deploying will be fibre backed. And the idea that Google has is to bring that fibre right up to the platform. And that is why the company seems confident in delivering speed much faster than the average speed in India. “So with fibre, we believe there should be a high speed capacity for users and there shouldn’t be a constraint in the backhaul,” said Gulzar.
7. Marian claimed that the entire project is net neutral and the company has no intention that users can only get to Google applications. So, users will be able to access whatever apps are best for them.
8. The Internet accessibility will not be limited to only browsing. Users will also be able to download and upload as well. Google, however, has no plans right now to provide free WiFi services on moving trains.
9. This will be the world's largest free public WiFi project.
While the RailWire WiFi in India is on top of Google’s priority list, the company also intends to soon introduce Project Loon in the country. While Marian refused to share any timeframe to bring the Internet-beaming balloons to India, she said, “We will launch as soon as we can.”
Furthermore, the company right now has no plans to launch the Google Fibre service in India.