Google to shut down free WiFi program

Gelo Gonzales
(UPDATED) The search giant cites cheapening mobile data costs and difficulties in scaling and sustainability as reasons for shutting down

GOOGLE STATION. The Philippines is among the 8 countries where the program was rolled out. Screenshot from Google Station website

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Google announced on its blog on Monday, February 17, that it will be shutting down its Google Station free WiFi program this year. 

Launched in 2015, the program offers free internet access in public places such as train stations, universities, airports, restaurants, malls, and hospitals. It is a global program, and is part of the company’s Next Billion Users initiative, which aims to get more people connected online. 

Citing cheapening mobile data costs, and difficulties in scaling and sustainability, Google’s vice president of payments and Next Billion Users Caesar Sengupta said that they’ve “made the decision to gradually wind down the Station program globally, through 2020” but “are working with our partners to transition existing sites so they can remain useful resources for the community.” 

“As we look to the next phase of enabling access, it’s clear that since we started 5 years ago, getting online has become much simpler and cheaper. Mobile data plans have become more affordable and mobile connectivity is improving globally,” noted Sengupta. In India, where the program made its global debut, he said that the country “specifically now has among the cheapest mobile data per GB in the world, with mobile data prices having reduced by 95% in the last 5 years.” 

He also said that “the challenge of varying technical requirements and infrastructure among our partners across countries has also made it difficult for Station to scale and be sustainable, especially for our partners.” 

STATION MAP. An interactive map on the Google Station website shows where the service is available. Screenshot from Google Station website

In the Philippines, the company announced back in July 2019 that there are 400 active Google Station sites, growing from the 50 that were available when it launched earlier that year in February together with partner Smart. Over 1 million users were connecting to the service monthly, averaging 22 minutes per session, several times a day, said the search giant. 

In India, TechCrunch received confirmation that the 400 Google Station hotspots already available in India will be maintained by Google’s partner there, RailTel.

The same will be happening in the Philippines as Smart will go on without the partner. The telco told Rappler that the current hotspot locations will remain running, and thanked Google for the partnership:

“In light of these recent developments regarding Google Station, we would like to assure our customers that they will continue to enjoy fast, free and reliable Smart WiFi connectivity in our current locations, and that more customers will soon be able to enjoy it as well as we continuously expand the reach of this carrier-grade Wi-Fi service to more areas nationwide. We are thankful for the partnership with Google and we look forward to our other partnerships and projects in the future.”

Currently, 8 countries – Philippines, India, Thailand, Mexico, Indonesia, Brazil, South Africa, and Nigeria – are part of the program.

While Google will be winding down its own program, other free WiFi programs from the public and private sectors will still be available. – Rappler.com

Gelo Gonzales

Gelo Gonzales is Rappler’s technology editor. He covers consumer electronics, social media, emerging tech, and video games.