Google is quitting its free Wi-Fi business three months after SA launch


Just three months after Google launched its free public Wi-Fi initiative, known as Google Station, in South Africa, the Internet giant is backing out of the business worldwide.

In November 2019, Google announced at a glitzy event in Sandton, Johannesburg that it was launching Google Station — its network of free public Wi-Fi hotspots — in South Africa, with the first hotspots in the Western Cape. At launch, it had 125 locations across Cape Town, particularly in underserved areas on the Cape Flats.

Google launched Google Station in India in January 2016 in an effort to get more people in developing markets online. It later expanded to India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria and, most recently, South Africa.

In response to a query from TechCentral, a Google South Africa spokeswoman confirmed via e-mail that the company plans to wind down the service. However, its South African partner, Think WiFi, will continue to operate the Wi-Fi hotspots independently of Google.

“Since we first started, the ecosystem has evolved and combined with complex and varying technical requirements across countries and partners, we have been re-evaluating our plans and have decided to wind down Station through 2020,” the spokeswoman said.

Transition plan

“We are transferring our Station operations in South Africa to Think WiFi, which will now carry out the project independently. We’ll work with Think WiFi on a plan to transition the service to them, and continue to support them until the end of 2020.”

She said Google “remains committed to look for ways to make the Internet more accessible for users around the world”.

Think WiFi was billed as being to the first of several partners to Google in South Africa for the initiative. At the launch in November, the company said telecommunications operator Telkom and MultiChoice-owned video streaming platform Showmax were the first advertisers on the ad-funded platform.

Update: In a statement from Think WiFi, issued after publication of this article on Friday, the company said the free Wi-Fi service will continue to operate in “exactly the same way users have become accustomed to”.

“The Western Cape Wi-Fi initiative will receive continued support, while new plans are in the pipeline to roll the service out to more venues in the coming months,” it said.

“The launch of the free Wi-Fi initiative in the Western Cape has been more successful than anticipated and plans are already under way to roll out free Wi-Fi to the Eastern Cape, Gauteng and some areas in Mpumalanga.”  — (c) 2020 NewsCentral Media