The eyes of the world may be fixed on the Pope’s visit to the US, but another diplomatic tour is also taking place over the pond. Narendra Modi has just paid a visit to Silicon Valley – the first Indian prime minister in decades to visit California.
In fact, Modi’s decision makes a lot of sense. A growing number of Silicon Valley’s big-hitter CEOs – including Google’s Sundar Pichai and Satya Nadella at Microsoft – have Indian backgrounds. Meanwhile, Modi is keen to “smarten” India’s infrastructure and improve the country’s engagement with technology.
To this end, during the president’s visit to the Google HQ, the web giant announced that it will install WiFi in 400 of India’s train stations. In a blog post, CEO Sundar Pichai writes that the first 100 stations should be online by 2016:
Even with just the first 100 stations online, this project will make Wi-Fi available for the more than 10 million people who pass through every day. 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. It will also be fast—many times faster than what most people in India have access to today.
Here’s a map of the first 100 stations:
So what’s in it for Google? Er, quite a lot, actually. It’s estimated that there are around 1bn Indian residents who are not yet online, which is a huge uncaptured market.
The reasons for this are many-fold: first, there’s availability, which the train statio project should help tackle. Then, there are barriers to those who speak local dialects, which Google is hoping to tackle through its recent introduction of Hindi voice search, improved hindi keyboards and the Indian Language Internet Alliance, which aims to get 500m Indian users online by 2017.
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