India File

Connected @Kharagpur

Abhishek Law | Updated on January 11, 2018

Feeling happy: Up to 400 people log in at the Kharagpur station daily Photo: Debasish Bhaduri   -  Debasish_Bhaduri

A Wi-Fi project backed by Google is immensely popular here

These days, Kharagpur railway station has more people on its platforms than usual. People hang around the refreshment shops, busy fidgeting with their mobile devices, too busy to look up or even be bothered about the blaring announcements from the loudspeaker informing about train movements. They are not here to catch a train.

Falhaj Safri is one such visitor. “I am not going anywhere. I am here only to browse internet,” Safri says nonchalantly.

Ever since Kharagpur station set up the “RailWire”, the free public Wi-Fi project initiated by Google along with RailTel, people like Safri have been visiting the station just to enjoy the free Internet services. Some even buy platform ticketto get access to the Internet.

Located some 140 km from Kolkata, Kharagpurboasts of the premier IIT campus that was Alma mater to Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai. The railway station has the third largest platform in the world. And now, if locals are to be believed, it also boasts of one of the fastest Wi-Fi’s they have logged in to.

DK Panda, the Station Master beams with pride. “It feels good to know we are amongst the privileged stations that have Wi-Fi,” he says. Kharagpur, where the services went live in October 2016, saw Internet major Google come in as the technology partner; and RailTel as the ISP (or internet service provider).

A total of 400 stations are to be covered in India under this ‘Station Wi-Fi’ project. Currently 120 are covered.

Initial days

“People would come seeing the placards of free Internet and ask how they could login. They picked up the process faster than we expected,” Panda recalls. “Users thank us for the super fast connection,” he added.

Unofficial estimate suggests, 200 to 400 people log in at the station everyday. It could not be independently verified. As per Google, it has 6 million users across all active railway stations every month. It does not have data specific to Kharagpur.

Under ideal circumstances, speed for the first 30 minutes of usage is close to 30 Mbps. That’s enough to watch a HD movie on Netflix. Post the first half-an-hour, average speed is scaled down to anywhere between 1 Mbps and 2 Mbps, which is still good enough for sending emails, instant messaging and surfing social media.

Gulzar Azad, Country Head, Connectivity, Google India, said that there are 60 access points that cover the length and breadth of the station. These access points are set in a zig-zag format to ensure maximum area coverage.

“Our aim is to ensure that downloads be buffering free. So we take care of issues like latency and jitter. But our priority has been to see that the person logging in for the first 30 minutes gets the best experience,” he says.

Also read: From madrasa to blind school, Internet makes life easier

Signing up India

Published on July 04, 2017

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