5 years after launch, Google is terminating its station program. The program sees it offer free internet connectivity at public locations such as universities, malls and railway stations in emerging markets.
According to Caesar Sengupta, VP of Payments and Next Billion Users at Google, the program has helped millions of users connect to the internet everyday – many even for the first time.
However, the continued drop in prices of mobile data leaves Google free WiFi program with little or no impact, hence the decision to pull the plug on the Google Station.
“…And when we evaluate where we can truly make an impact in the future, we see greater need and bigger opportunities in making products and features tailored to work better for the next billion user markets.”Caesar Sengupta, VP, Payments and Next Billion Users, Google.
Now, the program which has rolled out hundreds of free WiFi’s in 9 countries including Nigeria and South Africa, will be ended this year and the sites transitioned into other useful ventures for the communities.
A simple project, Google Station offers users the ability to surf the web with good internet connection, especially for those who are under-served or are not able to afford it. The project which was first launched in India has grown rapidly, with Google seeking partnerships with ISPs and venue owners to launch the projects.
But beyond affordable data prices. Google notes that there’s also the challenge of infrastructure and other technical issues which has stunted the growth of Station.
“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.”
Google Station and Free WiFi in Nigeria
Google Station launched in Nigeria in 2018 with plans of rolling out about 200 Google Stations across five cities – Lagos, Kaduna, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, and Abuja by 2019.
However, it launched with 5 of the stations in Lagos, including University of Lagos; Computer Village, Ikeja; Muritala Mohammed Airport Wing 2; Ikeja City Mall; and the Palms, Lekki already live.
The service later launch in Wuse Market, Banex Plaza, and Emab Plaza all in Abuja.
But in February 2019, Google began facing issues from the Nigerian telecoms regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
According, to the NCC, Google Station is operating its free WiFi in Nigeria without being licensed by the commission. Hence it was not paying the applicable fees, levies and taxes like other players in the telecommunication sector.
This was considered a move to protect traditional telcos as free internet disrupts the telecom industry.
Later in September, Google Station’s services in Lagos were suspended as Google was said to be having issues with its service provider. This was reported to have affected lots of users who had grown fond of the service. Although as at the time, operation in Abuja was still on.
For its Nigerian users the shut down of Google’s free WiFi is coming barely 2 years after its launch and for users who have gotten accustomed to the service across all the stations, they will have limited time to use it for before it is rolled up, this time finally.