News from BWCS

Indian Railways to Launch as a Telecoms Provider in Rural Areas

Mon 18 Jan 2021

RailTel, the soon to be sold-off subsidiary of Indian Railways, has revealed plans to offer high-speed broadband and WiFi services in remote villages. The company hopes to use its vast fibre-optic network to facilitate fast connections in India’s rural hinterland.

According to the company, such a move would help to greatly speed up the Prime Minister’s WiFi expansion project – aimed at boosting broadband connectivity nationwide. Demand for WiFi has ballooned since March, with millions of people logging in from their homes for work and education services amid the pandemic.

RailTel has also announced plans to provide content on demand, including infotainment and entertainment offerings, to train passengers with pre-loaded multi-lingual content on servers inside trains. This service will be available in 8,731 premium mail, express and suburban trains, and at WiFi-enabled railway stations.

The company is also said to be considering charging passengers for using the public WiFi services at railway stations. Currently, customers can use low-speed internet for free, those seeking higher download speeds may be forced to pay in the future, according to the plan they choose. RailTel is in line to undergo a ?700-crore (US$108 million) initial public offering later this year.

RailTel’s cable system currently runs alongside 58,742km of track and helps it provides WiFi connectivity at over 5,900 stations. In a proposal to the country’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT), the company pointed out that it already has a presence even in the remotest parts of the subcontinent and clearly has the capacity to provide broadband and WiFi services in the villages.

According to the railway company such a move would mean much quicker coverage of many more villages and small towns and would mean they would not have to wait for the expensive construction of new masts or laying of new cables. RailTel insists it has no plans to enter the voice communications market.

However, according to RailTel, the DoT has yet to respond.

In 2019 RailTel said it would employ advanced trackside connectivity solution LTE-R, in place of GSM-R. The company plans to introduce trackside LTE-R in four separate phases of construction, covering a total of 64,000km of track. Eventually, the system network will provide high-speed, on-board internet connectivity right across the vast, sprawling Indian Railways network.

To date, a 650km trial section of track has been equipped to offer LTE-R services. Based on the feedback from trials on four different sections of this track, RailTel says it will float tenders for the entire network. Phase 1 covers the “Golden Triangle” which accounts for 75% - 80% of India Railways high-use and high revenue tracks – some 10,000km.

On-train WiFi services, trackside networks, the growing market for passenger WiFi and on-board entertainment will be the main subjects of BWCS’ WiFi on Trains Conference in November of this year. For information on speaking and exhibiting and the one remaining sponsorship spot at the 2021 event, please contact  .

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