RailTel, the privatised technology company once part of Indian Railways, has announced a major new partnership aimed at monetising its impressive spread of station WiFi hotspots. The company, which has introduced WiFi connectivity at some 6,180 rail stops across the subcontinent, says it has signed up a consortium of technology forms led by 3i Infotech Ltd, to try to wring some revenue out if its estimated 1.1 million daily WiFi users.
According to this week’s announcement from RailTel, it will work with 3i, plus Forensics Intelligence Surveillance and Security Technologies Private Limited (FISST) and Yellow Inc. The consortium will aim to generate income via targeted advertising and offering passengers an extensive array of multimedia infotainment. This will all be accessed by new mobile app that the consortium is developing.
It is understood that 40% of revenue from the endeavour will go to RailTel. However, there is a clause in the contract which guarantees the tech partnership at least Rs14 Crore (US$1.7 million), should the advertising revenue not make its targeted level. In total, the partners believe that they will generate “a minimum” of Rs250 Crore (US$30.3 million) over the next five years.
The new mobile app, ambitiously titled ‘Super App’, will also be launched as part of the project. This will enable easy passenger login, e-ticketing, customised content packs and infotainment subscriptions to users both at and beyond the railway stations.
RailTel has made no secret of the fact that it is keen to pursue new revenue options. Early last year it relaunched itself as a major new telecoms provider in India when it revealed plans to offer high-speed broadband and WiFi services in remote villages. The company said it would use its vast fibre-optic network to facilitate fast connections in India’s rural hinterland.
Meanwhile, RailTel is also rolling out a 4G-based train collision avoidance system. This is designed to automatically stop any train that overshoots a red signal or to lower the train’s speed to the mandated limit.
The system will see an LTE mobile communication corridor built along the railway tracks. Towers will be added at a distance of 8km - 10km. According to RailTel, these masts will also be used to host 5G network equipment for private telecoms operators. Of course, the company currently has the exclusive rights to construct towers along the railway tracks, eventually the company’s 4G network will cover a total of 64,000km of track.
On-train WiFi services, trackside wireless networks, the growing market for passenger WiFi and on-board entertainment will be the main subjects of BWCS’ WiFi on Trains Conference this year.