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Logging in at Mumbai Central: First impressions of Google’s free WiFi

tech Updated: Jan 28, 2016 11:48 IST
Sneha Mahale
Sneha Mahale
Hindustan Times

On January 22, Mumbai Central on the city’s western line became the first station in the country to get Google’s free, high-speed WiFi. “Starting today, those passing through Mumbai Central station will have access to something that we hope will make their wait a bit more enjoyable and productive — free, high-speed WiFi. So, if you’re one of the 100,000 people who’ll pass through Mumbai Central today, go ahead, stream the video below in HD to learn more,” posted Gulzar Azad, head of access programs, Google India, on the company’s official blog. So, obviously, we had to put it to test.

Launched or not?

The ambitious project, in partnership with Indian Railways and RailTel, aims to reach about 400 stations across India soon. But, despite all the media coverage, not many in Mumbai seemed to be aware of its launch at Mumbai Central. A tweet asking for feedback on the service revealed that several Mumbaikars were still waiting for an official announcement. But the woman TC in the first-class compartment claimed otherwise. “It has started. While regular commuters are not concerned, you will now find several college kids hanging around at the station now,” she added, choosing to remain anonymous. Sure enough, the platform had multiple teens hanging around, each engrossed on his or her smartphone.

Setting it up

Launching the Wi-Fi is very simple. In fact, regular flyers will find the set-up process similar to the one at Mumbai airport. Select ‘RailWire’ among the network options available and you are asked to share your mobile number. Key it in, and you are sent an OTP (One Time Password) that must be typed in. That’s it, you are now connected and ready to share, post, tweet or stream.

To the test

Starting with the simple stuff, I initially used the network to post a couple of tweets, Googled more details about the project and put up an image or two on Instagram. There were no issues. It worked as well as Vodafone’s 3G network on my smartphone.

It was then time to up the game. I decided to check out music videos and trailers on YouTube. The buffering took some time and the picture quality was grainy initially, but once it picked up, I could see HD videos in, well, high definition. The videos streamed smoothly and there were no time lags. I was also able to download videos and store it offline for future use with relative ease. At this time, I observed a peak speed of 6.31 Mbps, but noticed a drop as more and more people signed on for the service at Mumbai Central.

Next up was using Netflix. The issues were the same. The connectivity took a while to kick in, but once it did, I was able to catch up on Shrek from where I had left off at home. The image quality was on a par with most what broadband services provide as part of their unlimited plans.

Walk the talk

By now, I had spent an hour at the station, and noticed a significant drop in the Internet speed. Apparently, this is part of Google’s plan to make sure that a few people spending all day in the station downloading lots of big files don’t slow down the network for everyone. However, despite the drop, I was able to do most things I do online regularly – post, share and tweet. But since time seemed to be up, I took a walk around to check what other commuters were up to, and get first-hand feedback on the service from them.

Mohini Satpal, who works in a recruitment firm in Mahalaxmi, said she got down at Mumbai Central only to check out the Wi-Fi. “So far so good,” she said, while logging in to check a video on YouTube. Mohit Phalak, a chemical engineer, added, “It was quite fast with a quick set-up. I could download a 200MB video in less than a minute. Now you don’t get irritated if the trains are late.”

Shyamal Dave, on the other hand, who works with social media engagement app Crowdfire, said he tested the network on day one (January 22). He said, “The speed was pretty good, but got no time to measure it. I used it on the phone for Snapchat, Swarm, Twitter, and to play Clash Of Clans.”

It will also be interesting to observe how the network holds up during rush hour, since I was there at noon when the platforms are relatively empty, or once more people start using it. For now at least, the project is off to a steady start.