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Google starts the free Station Wi-Fi program

Google closes Station, a program whereby the company has offered free Wi-Fi since 2016 at more than 400 train stations in India and other locations worldwide, TechCrunch reports. The Google Station website says the service is currently live in Brazil, South Africa, Nigeria, Thailand, the Philippines, Mexico, India and Indonesia. The Station program will be completed worldwide this year.

Google explained that it made the decision to end the program because it became difficult to scale up and make it a sustainable business. The company had worked with different partners in every market where it offered the Station service, but each had different technical and infrastructure requirements. In India, for example, it worked with RailTel, Indian Railways and Pune Smart City, while in South Africa it worked with Think WiFi.

TechCrunch notes that part of the challenge has probably been exacerbated by a fall in mobile data prices in markets such as India, making free Wi-Fi programs less necessary. Google had previously tried to make money with the service by showing ads to users who had signed up for the service.

Google says it collaborates with its partners so that “it can transfer existing sites so that they can remain useful resources for the community.” In South Africa, a spokesperson confirmed to Business insider, that it would transfer activities to Think Wifi, “which the project will now carry out independently.” Think about wifi confirmed to ITWeb that “free WiFi is here to stay” at its locations.

The station service was popular with many. In June 2018, Google said there were 8 million monthly Station users who consumed an average of 350 MB of data per session. More than half of Station users have connected to the service several times a day.

The WiFi initiative was free first announced at the end of 2015 to get more Indians online by offering services at 400 train stations across the country. The first station, Mumbai Central, went live in January 2016 and later that year, Google officially named the project Google Station and said it would also collaborate with other locations, including cafes and shopping centers. Despite hit the target of 400 stations in June 2018, the company said the work was still not completed.

Meanwhile, Google launched Station in South Africa in November 2019 at 125 locations, according to ITWeb. Today’s announcement means that Google has started phasing out the service just over three months after the first launch in the country.

Google is not the only company that has tried to make it easier for emerging market users to come online. Facebook has the Internet.org project in 2013, and in 2016 it launched Express Wi-Fi in India, after the previous internet service was banned in the country. Elsewhere, companies have experimented with new technologies to provide internet where fixed infrastructure is more unreliable. Project Loon van Alphabet has tried to do this using stratospheric helium balloons, while Facebook has experimented with solar-powered internet drones in the past.