Bharti Airtel is holding talks with Google about deploying Wi-Fi hotspots in strategic locations across the country to improve its broadband coverage.

A source told The Economic Times (ET) the mobile operator held initial discussions with the internet giant about Google Station, a public Wi-Fi project launched by the company in 2016 to which Indian Railways and its communications arm RailTel agreed a partnership covering deployment of hotspots in railway stations across India.

Google is looking to expand the connectivity beyond train stations and is targeting shopping centres (malls), coffee shops and universities.

Gulzar Azad, Google India country head, said it is looking for more partnerships around the Google Station platform, ET reported. He said it is talking with all of the country’s services providers, including ISPs and venue owners.

While Airtel didn’t respond to queries from the newspaper, the operator is likely looking to boost its Wi-Fi resources to offload traffic from its cellular network to reduce the investment required to expand capacity of its base stations. The discussions come at a time when the market leader is facing intense competition from 4G operator Reliance Jio and is taking steps to improve coverage and retain subscribers.

Airtel is also partnering with Facebook on Wi-Fi deployments. In early May Facebook announced the commercial launch of its Express Wi-Fi service in India, with plans to deploy an additional 20,000 hotspots across the country in partnership with Airtel.

Facebook also is working with Indian Railways on providing Wi-Fi access at rural railway stations across the country along with nearby villages.

RailTel, which has an ISP licence, runs a fibre network connecting about 4,000 railway stations across the country. So far the company and Google have deployed Wi-Fi hotspots at more than 100 stations.