Indian Railways has announced it will provide free WiFi at 6,485 railway stations “in the next 100 days”, dramatically bringing forward its own previously announced deadline. The company had previously said that free WiFi would be available across the national network of stations by August 2020.
So far, RailTel, the Indian Railways subsidiary responsible for the WiFi network, has completed installation at some 1,603 stations. The company now has under three months to complete installations and testing at the remaining 4,882 stations.
It was back in 2014 that RailTel first partnered with Google and the Department of Telecoms to hatch its ambitious coverage plan. Since then, it has developed one of the world’s largest public WiFi networks with some 26 million users logging-in per month, downloading 9,431 Terabytes of aggregated data consumption.
In addition to the station programme, RailTel plans to install WiFi on some 1,300 premium trains (7,020 carriages) by summer of next year.
On-train WiFi on the Subcontinent will be further supported by a hugely ambitious plan to roll-out trackside LTE-R masts, which RailTel and Indian Railways have kicked off. RailTel recently published the tender material on its website (https://www.railtelindia.com) for four phases of construction of the required trackside infrastructure which will eventually cover 64,000km of the rail network.
To date, a 650km trial of the LTE-R services is underway along four separate stretches of track in India – each section is around 150km long. Based on the feedback from these trials, the company plans to float tenders for the entire network. Phase 1 will cover the “Golden Triangle” which accounts for 75% - 80% of Indian Railways’ high-use and high revenue tracks – some 10,000km.
Once installed, the LTE-R network will provide high-speed, on-board internet connectivity right across India’s vast railway network. The trackside system will also enable on-train CCTV services and train and track condition monitoring services, as well as signalling services for train control.
In the stations, RailTel will continue to offer its high-speed Internet connections to businesses, schools and colleges close to the stations via their retail brand Railwire. The company gives customers the chance to plug into RailTel’s massive fibre-optic backbone.
In effect, the high-speed WiFi connections at the stations – all branded to Railwire – act as a marketing tool for the wider network services with passengers able to gain access, at speeds of 30Mbps to 40Mbps on the platform for the first 30 minutes, the service then reverts to a differentiated system for the next 24 hours – still free.
The company offers free content for schools and colleges on its websites as well as providing access to many of the Indian Government’s digital services for the sub-continent’s huge population. Passengers also connect to Railwire to download movies, songs and games and stream high-definition videos as well as engaging with work. The backbone network to each station is 1Gbps.
Interestingly, it appears railway officials accept that most current users access the WiFi in order to access free downloads of movies, serials, and even adult content. Many of them also reportedly sit along the railway station premises — either on the FOBs, ticket counters or platforms — to access this facility.
4,882 – Stations where work is still pending
1,603 – Installations already complete
400 stations – in India that use Google’s free WiFi services
50 Mbps – promised speed of the WiFi services
30 minutes – of free access after first login
260 – Stations on WR and CR that already have the free WiFi
245 – CR stations in line to get the service
281 – WR stations set aside to get the facilities
725 TB – Data used by Mumbai commuters in Dec 2018
Previously RalTel and IR trialled satellite-delivered WiFi services on Express trains between Delhi and Kolkata. However, these ran into cost and bandwidth issues which forced RailTel to look elsewhere. The new LTE-R system will now form the bedrock of its network-wide on-board WiFi services.
Ashutosh Vasant of RailTel was one of the main speakers at this year’s WiFi on Trains Conference (www.Traincomms2019.com ) The Conference discussed on-board WiFi, trackside networks and the growing market for passenger WiFi services and on-board entertainment.
For more information on the conference please see www.Traincomms2019.com and for more detailed country-by-country data on how the market for on-train WiFi services is developing please see www.Internet4Trains.com or contact Ross.Parsons@BWCS.com .
The 2019 conference (www.Traincomms2019.com ) was sponsored by Icomera, Nomad Digital, Fluidmesh, RADWIN and BAI Communications. For information on the 2020 event, please contact Ross.Parsons@BWCS.com.