NEW DELHI: Indian Railways is aiming to provide a free wi-fi service at its 8,500 stations by March 2019, a development that is expected to boost rural e-commerce.

The move marks a significant advance on a scheme launched in late 2015, when Google partnered with Railtel to utilise the latter’s fibre-optic cables running alongside rail tracks to provide free and high-speed wi-fi access to railway commuters at major stations across the country.

Now the Railway Ministry, which currently offers wi-fi services at 216 major stations enabling about seven million rail passengers to log on, has identified a further 600 stations to have these facilities by March this year, with the aim of covering all 8,500 stations a year later, the Economic Times reported.

“Internet access has now become an important requirement in day-to-day working and we shall be providing this facility at all railway stations in the country,” a senior Railway Ministry official said.

While the government’s Digital India initiative is the main driver of the transformation, as it seeks to promote e-governance, the arrival of wi-fi hot spots at rural railway stations will also aid e-commerce.

In addition to accessing services such as the issuing of government certificates or paying taxes, local consumers will be able to order and pick up items from e-commerce portals.

Caesar Sengupta, Google's Next Billion Users (NBU) Vice President, has described such public wi-fi hotspots as “the internet cafe of the mobile generation – a daily place where you go to get high-quality internet to download videos and apps, whatever you choose to do”.

Users have 30 minutes in which they can access free and fast wi-fi, after which speeds slow and ads are shown unless they want to pay for premium access.

“From the beginning, we have said that the long-term goal for RailTel Wi-Fi service was to make it self-sustainable, and a paid model is an important part of that,” a spokesperson told Gadgets 360.

Sourced from Economic Times, Gadgets 360, Indian Express; additional content by WARC staff