Currently, tech savvy train commuters have only one option to access internet while travelling on trains in India – through their mobile handsets or by using a broadband stick that plugs into a USB drive. However we all know that getting a strong signal throughout a train journey is just too much to ask for. All that is set to change as exciting news of Wi-Fi on trains in India bring hopeful smiles on the face of the modern Indian.
ET reported that the Indian Railways received preliminary clearance for using the frequency of Ku band, which is primarily used for satellite communication. Railways had been waiting for the clearance since the last couple of years and it is believed that Howrah Rajdhani express will have the first link-ups. This pilot project will be the first time that moving trains will have satellite linkup to provide for internet services and will cost about Rs. 6.30 crore to implement.
However, don’t be too optimistic about using Wi-Fi on your laptop/tablet while travelling on trains in India just yet. Over the coming months, Indian Railways will test the system on the pilot project thoroughly.
During the tests, travelers on the Howrah Rajdhani will be able to access internet via their Wi-Fi enabled devices. The connection will be made via custom made antennas that will be fitted in the train. It may be believed that some sort of Wi-Fi router or hot-spot will connect individual devices. The best part about the pilot project is that the service will be free of charge, at least till the time they are testing it.
So if you happen to be travelling in Howrah Rajdhani while the pilot project is going on, don’t forget to carry your Wi-Fi enabled device to get free access to internet via satellite connectivity on the Ku band. The ticket inspector will give you a number which you will dial from your mobile phone. Shortly, you will receive a password with which you can login to the network. It is similar to how you access internet from Airport Hotspots.
While this sounds great, one can’t help but imagine the possible nightmares that passengers could face. If we are free to speculate, the fee/charge to use such a service could possibly paid by either netbanking, debit card, credit card or on-the-spot recharge facilities via the TTE.
But what happens if there is a glitch and the passenger is unable to access the system. Do passengers fill out lengthy forms and wait in queues at the railway station to claim refunds? Will there be someone on the train who can look into IT related issues?
If a passenger is unable to access the network, who decides whether it was the passenger’s device that was faulty or the train’s network? What happens if someone has relied heavily on the internet connectivity to get work done and upon boarding, sees a "Sorry, Not In Service" board? Obviously, the questions are many and just the thought of arguing with a railway official on the station over petty internet usage charges feels irritable.
Then again, we can either choose to be skeptics or applaud the terrific effort on the part of Indian Railways to modernize rail travel. Obviously, we are going to do the latter. After the launch of the IRCTC website, the Indian Railways have been on a modernization rampage. Convenient services like mobile ticketing, SMS booking confirmation as a virtual train ticket, using a screenshot of an e-ticket and booking Tatkal tickets without the interference of travel agents from 8 am to 9 am are already in place.
Services that allow tracking train schedules, tracking real time train movements and integration with Google Maps are expected to be launched soon. Indian Railways deserves a pat on the back for its modernization drive and we can only hope and pray that it continues to deliver power-packed and no-nonsense service solutions that will benefit the passengers.
And, if you are one of the lucky ones to be traveling on that Rajdhani express during the pilot, do let us know what your experience was…