Sundar Pichai, Google's Indian-born CEO, has just given Narendra Modi, India's prime minister, a nice present, and it's going to benefit millions of Indians. The announcement was made today (Sunday, September 27), following Modi's visit to Google's headquarters in California.
In brief, Google has "announced a new project to provide high-speed public Wi-Fi in 400 train stations across India". The busiest 100 stations should be online by the end of 2016, providing internet access to about 10 million Indians. In a blog post, Pichai said: "This will rank it as the largest public Wi-Fi project in India, and among the largest in the world, by number of potential users."
The service "will be free to start, with the long-term goal of making it self-sustainable to allow for expansion to more stations and other places, with RailTel and more partners, in the future".
It's not clear what Google's "Access & Energy team" will actually do. However, Google will be working with Indian Railways and RailTel Corporation, which runs fibre optic networks along railway lines.
RailTel says it has laid more than 42,000km of optical fibre along Indian railway routes, and now has 400 cities on its 2.5Gbps backbone network.
Pichai points out that India already has more Internet users than every country except China. "But what's really astounding is the fact that there are still nearly one billion people in India who aren't online."
This is due not only to lack of availability but also to lack of support for local languages and, of course, cost.
Pichai says: "To help make web content more useful for Indians, many of whom don't speak English, we launched the Indian Language Internet Alliance last year to foster more local language content, and have built greater local language support into our products -- including Hindi Voice Search, an improved Hindi keyboard and support for seven Indian languages with the latest versions of Android."
Google India has also launched the Internet Saathi project to get more Indian women online. Women make up just a third of India's internet users, and only 12% of the users in rural India.