Google says that since Station started five years ago, mobile data plans have become a lot more affordable in India, making it difficult for the service to scale up and be sustainable.

Google to shut down its free public WiFi service at railway stationsImage source: Joegoauk Goa via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Atom WiFi Monday, February 17, 2020 - 17:01

Nearly five years after launching Google Station in India, which provides free public WiFi at railway stations across India, the company has announced that it will gradually wind down the program globally.

Google Station was launched as a partnership between Google, Indian Railways and Railtel to bring fast, free public WiFi to over 400 of the busiest railway stations in India, something it achieved by June 2018.

However, Caesar Sengupta, VP - Payments and Next Billion Users at Google says that since Station started five years ago, mobile data plans have become a lot more affordable, especially in India, which has among the cheapest mobile data per GB in the world. He also observed that the Indian government and several governments and local entities have kicked off their own initiatives to provide easier, cost-effective access to the internet for everyone. 

This, along with the challenge of varying technical requirements and infrastructure among Google’s partners across countries has also made it difficult for Station to scale and be sustainable, especially for our partners.

“And when we evaluate where we can truly make an impact in the future, we see greater need and bigger opportunities in building products and features tailored to work better for the next billion user markets,” Sengupta said in a blogpost.

“Therefore, we've made the decision to gradually wind down the Station program globally, through 2020. We are working with our partners to transition existing sites so they can remain useful resources for the community,” he added.

However, this doesn’t signal any focus of Google away from India. Sengupta says that the country has been at the heart of Google’s efforts to increase internet access. “… be it through low cost devices, helping people search and use online tools in popularly spoken Indian languages, or making the Assistant available on feature phones. We’re also helping to skill small businesses and women around the country on how to use the internet so they use it to enhance their lives and those of their communities, and customising our products like Search, Maps and YouTube to meet the unique needs of Indians,” he added.