The railroad in India is called "The Lifeline to the Nation" — it's a stunning operation that brings over 13 million riders a day to more than 7000 stations spread across 67,000 miles (108,000 km) of track. And that lifeline is about to get a small digital upgrade that should help keep people connected.
Google has announced plans to bring high-speed Wi-Fi to 100 of the country's busiest stations by the end of 2016, and it hopes to eventually bring connectivity to 400 stations in total. Those 100 initial stations serve over 10 million riders a day, according to the search company.
The initiative, which will be accomplished together with Indian Railways and provider RailTel, was announced today during an event at Google's Mountain View campus with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He's been visiting influential Silicon Valley companies, including Facebook, over the past few days.
While millions and millions of Indians are purchasing smartphones with data plans, bandwidth can be limited and is often slow. Google promises that its Wi-Fi service will be truly high speed — fast enough to stream HD video. It will be free at first, "with the long-term goal of making it self-sustainable to allow for expansion to more stations and other places." That means it will cost some Rupees to use the service in the future.
The effort is part of Google's well-publicized goal of connecting the "next billion" users to the internet. Other than providing a vital service, connecting more people online dovetails with Google's ad business. A similar motivation is behind the company's low-cost Android One initiative, which has struggled so far in India.