Passengers will soon be able to surf the Net, send emails, access Facebook and use WhatsApp throughout their travel on the Indian Railway’s network. After installing Wi-Fi systems in over 125 stations across the country, the carrier is now scouting for technologies that will enable it to provide internet access to all on-board passengers through Wi-Fi. On an average, 23 million passengers travel on the railways’ network every day. To be sure, the railways already provides internet access on trains such as Tejas, Gatimaan, Delhi-Howrah Rajdhani Express and other luxury trains. However, this is not a viable cost-effective method of providing the service. “We are planning to have high-speed Wi-Fi in trains. The internet provided on trains currently is through satellite, but is very expensive,” said a railway ministry official requesting anonymity. Under the new system, Wi-Fi devices will be installed on track-side equipment at periodic intervals for uninterrupted Internet access.
The development comes at a time when the government is also working to allow in-flight Internet access for air passengers in the Indian airspace. The aviation ministry is in discussion with the department of telecommunication and state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam for offering the service. Various international airlines already allow in-flight Internet access for its domestic and international passengers.
The railways is already working with IIT-Chennai and Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT). “This is something new we are trying as it is not available anywhere at present and no railways provide it. We are looking for partners,” added the official. IIT-Chennai has already developed a concept and C-DOT is working on an existing equipment which can be tweaked to suit the requirement of the railways. “We are thinking of doing a pilot probably in the Bangalore-Chennai section,” said the official.
The railways ferried a massive 8,221 million passengers in financial year 2016-17 and the number of internet users in the country is around 430 million. However, though as per estimates, per capita data consumption in the country is around 1.25 GB, most of the usage is through mobile data owing to a lack of Wi-Fi infrastructure in the country.
The colonial-era transporter under the current railway minister has undertaken various initiatives to give a facelift to the amenities provided to passengers to match international standards and also that of the aviation space to which it is losing passengers. Apart from providing Wi-Fi access at stations — provided by RailTel Corporation of India — the railways has also started providing on-board entertainment in select trains. It also launched RailCloud recently to optimise server resources and management.
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