Google has today announced (via TechCrunch) that Station, its free WiFi service available at 400 rail stations in India and many other countries around the world, is shutting down.

It seems like two primary factors have contributed to Google Station’s demise. First, mobile data in key markets is getting cheaper. While Google says Station is still heavily used in India, wider availability of fast internet has rendered the service far less important.

Of note, Reliance Jio, launched by India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, launched a few years ago offering customers 4G data at levels previously unheard of in the Indian market. This in turn led to a drastic reshaping of access to high speed mobile internet in India as a whole.

The second factor contributing to its discontinuation, Google says it simply had a hard time finding a sustainable business model for the program. Google tried various monetization strategies — like showing an ad to users before they could log in — but it seems none justified Station’s continued existence.

Caesar Sengupta, Vice President of Payments and Next Billion Users at Google, had this to say in a statement to TC:

The challenge of varying technical requirements and infrastructure among our partners across countries has also made it difficult for Station to scale and be sustainable, especially for our partners. And when we evaluate where we can truly make an impact in the future, we see greater need and bigger opportunities in making building products and features tailored to work better for the next billion user markets.

RailTel, the local telecommunications company that Google partnered with to offer Station at more than 400 rail stations in India, told TechCrunch in a statement that it will continue to offer WiFi — although it’s unclear if it will be free — at the stations currently offering Station access.

Google Station started in India, but soon expanded to offer free internet access in other countries such as Mexico, Indonesia, Brazil, Nigeria, and others. Its most recent launch was in South Africa at the end of 2019, but that offering will apparently be shortlived.

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Stephen Hall

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