At the Google for India event in New Delhi on Wednesday, Google CEO Sundar Pichai talked about the company’s plans for supporting the Digital India initiative. Among the announcements, one of the highlights was the confirmation that Google will be working with Indian Railways to bring free Wi-Fi to 400 train stations. This had already been announced, but the specific deadlines had not been given. Today, Pichai said that 100 stations will get Wi-Fi by the end of 2016, which 10 million people will use every day. The project will first go live in Mumbai Central in January 2016, he added.

Google is tying up with PSU RailTel to implement the Wi-Fi facilities on stations, using RailTel’s fibre optic network backbone that connects the stations themselves.

Aside from this, Pichai also announced that Google is exploring ways to bring Project Loon to India. The idea behind the program is to beam an Internet signal via hot air balloons. It’s worth pointing out that the Telecom Minister raised concerns about the idea – in a written response to the Rajya Sabha, Ravi Shankar Prasad wrote, “The proposed frequency band to be used in the Loon Project of Google is being used for cellular operations in India and it will lead to interference with cellular transmissions.”

The Google CEO also mentioned a partnership with the Tata Trust – the two are rolling out bicycles to 1,000 villages across three states, to teach women about the Internet. The bicycles will be equipped with Internet connected devices, and the people riding them will be trained by Google to educate women about how they can benefit from the Internet.

Pichai, who was born in India, has earlier blogged about how he believes the Internet can impact India, and says that despite the huge growth that has taken place in terms of the reach of the Internet, there are still a billion people who are completely offline, and this must be addressed. The railways Wi-Fi program will bring many of these people online, Pichai believes, and on the blog, he has also promised that the connections will be fast – “many times faster than what most people in India have access to today” – so it can be used for anything from downloading a book or a game for your journey, watching a video, or researching your destination.


By Adam