Project Nilgiri is the joint collaboration between Google and the Indian Railways to erect India’s biggest free Wi-Fi infrastructure. As per the project, 500 important railway stations across India are slated to offer free Wi-Fi to commuters – the speed being 7 Mbps (download) and 5 Mbps (upload). The first phase is likely to cover 100 stations and approximately 10 million users. The Mumbai Central railway station will be the first beneficiary, followed by other metropolitan cities.
Google is keen on expanding the project by using satellite communication technology to offer Wi-Fi on moving trains. It will use Google Fiber, a project popular in USA for its broadband speeds and connectivity, for Project Nilgiri.
Google, in partnership with RailTel, would offer Internet service to approximately 10 million passengers every day. The Internet conglomerate is laying the platform – the costs of which will be borne by the Indian government (or taxpayer). The collaboration with RailTel is seen as a positive sign since the company already has several thousand kilometers of fiber network laid along the railway tracks, with work in progress to further expand this reach.
The free Wi-Fi comes with its limitations. The service would be free for the initial 30 minutes of use. Further usage won’t be free and there’ll be drastic drops in connection speed. To access unlimited and unrestricted Wi-Fi, passengers will have to pay extra. They must verify their mobile number to use the service.
The Indian Railways is far from perfect, and free Internet in railway stations is not the immediate requirement. Critics believe the government must strengthen railway safety, improve toilets (in the train and at stations), modernize and setup necessary coaches to accommodate next-gen train services (high-speed trains), etc. before contemplating free Wi-Fi service. Moreover, most Indians with smartphones already use mobile data plans, so it’s hard to see what additional value Project Nilgiri truly adds.
Wi-Fi connectivity across railway stations is not completely novel as there are some major Indian railway stations already equipped with the facility. But that’s sporadic and unreliable and details of those stations are fairly unknown. With Google on-board, Wi-Fi in Indian railway stations would hopefully become popular.