The newly-privatised telecoms wing of Indian Railways, RailTel, has launched a new, paid-for, high-speed WiFi service at over 4,000 railway stations. The scheme is expected to generate extra revenues of Rs15 crore (US$2.05 million) a year and follows a trial of the system in Uttar Pradesh.
Last month, the company effectively threw its hat into the ring as a major new telecoms provider in India when it revealed plans to offer high-speed broadband and WiFi services in remote villages. RailTel said it will use its vast fibre-optic network to facilitate fast connections in India’s rural hinterland.
So far, the company’s plans seem to have struck a chord with investors and its share-price has soared since debuting on the Indian Stock Exchange on 26th of February.
Passengers at any of the 4,000 stations included in the new plan now have the choice of 30 minutes of free WiFi per day at 1Mbps, or they can upgrade the service to around 34Mbps, for a “small fee”. The charges are set at: Rs10 for 5GB per day, Rs15 for 10GB per day, or Rs20 for 10 GB over five days. The maximum package includes 60GB for 30 days and costs Rs70.
Speaking at the launch of the new service, Shri Puneet Chawla, the CEO of RailTel said, “We did a detailed trial run of Pre-paid WiFi at 20 Stations in Uttar Pradesh and based on the response and detailed testing, we have launched this plan at over 4,000 more stations across India. We intend to launch the pre-paid plans for all the stations with our RailWire WiFi this financial year”.
The new service seems to dovetail well with RaiTel’s recent announcement that it intends to expand into providing integrated telecoms services to the wider public and government organisations. This move, the company argues, would greatly speed up the Indian Prime Minister’s WiFi expansion project – aimed at boosting broadband connectivity nationwide. Demand for WiFi in India has ballooned since March, with millions of people logging in from their homes for work and education services amid the pandemic.
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.
Last year, RailTel chose Margo Network, a subsidiary of Zee Entertainment as its Digital Entertainment Service Provider (DESP). According to RailTel, Margo will supply content on demand at stations and, later, on trains. The new service will eventually be available on all Premium, Express, Mail and Suburban trains run by Indian Railways.
RailTel also announced a large-scale roll-out of CCTV surveillance cameras in the coming financial year. This will mean:
– The deployment of CCTV in over 14,000 train carriages.
– 6,000 railway stations to be covered by CCTV by 2022.
A further new project that RailTel will roll out for Indian Railways in the coming year is the 4G based train collision avoidance system. This is designed to automatically stop any train that overshoots a red signal or to lower the train’s speed to the mandated limit.
This system will see an LTE mobile communication corridor built along the railway tracks. Towers will be added at a distance of 8km - 10km. According to RailTel, these masts will also be used to host 5G network equipment for private telecoms operators. Of course, RailTel currently has the exclusive rights to construct towers along the railway tracks, eventually the company’s 4G network will cover a total of 64,000km of track.
On-train WiFi services, trackside wireless networks, the growing market for passenger WiFi and on-board entertainment will be the main subjects of BWCS’ WiFi on Trains Conference on November 16th and 17th this year. For information on speaking and exhibiting and the one remaining sponsorship spot at the 2021 event, please contact Ross.Parsons@BWCS.com .
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The 2021 conference (www.Traincomms.com ) is sponsored by Icomera, RADWIN and, new sponsor, GlobalReach Technology.
Two further sponsors are due to join in March