Uber goes slow on its Wi-Fi cab service

Priyanka Pani Mumbai | Updated on February 07, 2016


Service is limited to high-end cabs in most cities

After shutting down its auto-hailing service recently, Uber Technologies seems to be going slow on its free Wi-Fi service rollout in the Indian market.

The San Francisco-based taxi app had launched both the services last year. While the auto service was a pilot only in New Delhi, the company had launched the free Wi-Fi in cab for Indian riders to dominate the ride-hailing market, where it is facing competition from Ola.

Tie-up with Airtel

The company had launched the Wi-Fi freebie in August in partnership with telecom operator Bharti Airtel in some cities, including Mumbai, New Delhi and Bengaluru. Airtel provided Uber drivers with mobile devices that could create 4G Wi-Fi hot spots in their cars. The plan was to roll it out across all vehicles on the Uber network. However, six months later, riders are seeing the service restricted to only a few categories. In Mumbai, for example, it is usually found only in Uber’s premium segment of cabs called UberBlack. In Bengaluru and Delhi, riders rarely find a cab with the Wi-Fi option.

Uber India spokesperson Ruchica Tomar said that the service would be scaled up after seeing the response in Mumbai. "Mumbai was the first city in India where we piloted free high-speed internet on Uber and we have witnessed a steady spike in demand from our users. The Wi-Fi-enabled cars on Uber initially had a separate option in the app to drive visibility and discoverability. As we see the evolution of this pilot across cities in India, there will be no separate option in the app for Wi-Fi cars to enhance the Uber experience,” Uber India said.

Airtel said the rollout was on track, though the number of cars with Internet access may not have grown as fast.

“The number of cabs on the Uber network has grown exponentially; so, one may get a normal cab easier as the percentage of cabs with Wi-Fi may have decreased. But, we are working on improving the availability of Wi-Fi-enabled cars,” said Srini Gopalan, Director-Consumer Business at Bharti Airtel.

Market share

Experts say Uber is trying out different pilot projects to understand the Indian market and may close down initiatives that are not working for the company. “Uber is experimenting with what works in India in a bid to ensure it gains market share. Internet access seems to be one feature that everyone is talking about in India, but there could be implementation issues initially,” said an industry expert.

But local competitor Ola, backed by SoftBank, continues to have the overall lead, according to a report by Whichapp.me. In India, Uber has financial backing worth $100 million from a private equity firm owned by the Tata Group. It has announced that it will spend $1 billion in India, expanding into new cities and attracting new drivers.

“Every start-up has a philosophy of failing fast. So, you carry on with the initiatives that work for you, skip the rest and move on,” said Sanjay Mehta, a serial entrepreneur and angel investor.

Published on February 07, 2016

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