Google has revealed plans to end its free public Wi-Fi programme in India by the end of 2020 on the premise that Internet penetration has largely increased over the years and data has relatively gotten cheaper in many markets.
Stating other reasons, Google added that the initiative’s business model hasn’t translated to a sufficient return on investment, and the mechanism adopted to monetise the system like advertisement did not yield much result.
While the project is planned to be discontinued first in the pioneer nation, India, other markets may soon follow, even South Africa where it launched three months ago.
In 2015, Google introduced this initiative aimed at offering free WiFi in public places in some select countries. The programme, named Google Station, was first rolled out in India with a goal to cover 400 railway stations.
And since then, in partnership with various companies, the initiative has expanded to other countries like Mexico, Thailand, Nigeria, the Philippines, Brazil, Vietnam, and South Africa.
Since affordability has been a major bane on Internet access in developing economies, Google believes that the impact of this decision would not have so much negative effect since these markets are believed to have become more competitive unlike what was obtainable in the past.
Going further to defend the decision, Google claimed to have reached its 400-railway station coverage plan for India. However, if target is anything to go by, it means the tech giant still has a long way to go before it stops the service in its other markets.
For instance, the programme was intended to reach 200 locations across five cities in Nigeria by the end of 2019. But at the moment, Google stations are only present in two cities — Lagos and Abuja — which amounts to only a few locations.
It appears there have been signs of this development in Nigeria before now. In September 2019, Techpoint reported that Google free WiFi had gone offline at some locations in Lagos. In response to this, the internet company only admitted to having a knowledge of the situation without revealing plans to rectify it.
It is, however, not ascertained if partners will continue servicing these stations. But there appears to be a possibility. RailTel, Google’s Indian partner for the initiative, revealed that it will onboard other partners to continue providing access after Google’s withdrawal.
As at press time, Techpoint is yet to get a response from 21st Century Technologies and Backbone Connectivity Network(BCN), Google’s partner firms for Lagos and Abuja respectively.
Regardless of how this turns out, similar initiatives by other firms like Facebook, including government and privately funded projects will continue to provide affordable public Internet access to the average African.