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and on the 7th day, there was wi-fi

By enelson
Friday, May 18th, 2007 at 5:08 pm in BART, Capitol Corridor (Amtrak), technology.

yearning-for-wi-fi-on-the-rails.jpgThere is a fever that burns in the heart of every laptop-toting
transit commuter.

We look toward the heavens, hoping for a signal, one that will make
our commutes productive and happy, one that involves Web access and
all the bounty that comes with it.

Because of this, I must praise BART for giving us a foretaste of the
feast to come.

For a few fleeting minutes  in the neighborhood of
Embarcadero this week, you should be able to tap the ether. It might
only be a chance to quickly download a few e-mails, because it will end at Civic Center, if it works at all.

This week, I’ve been busy with our office move out of the Trib Tower, the MacArthur Maze, Bike-to-Work Day and federal recognition of how public-private partnerships might someday work on the BART connector to Oakland Airport. In all the fuss over those issues, I’ve been neglecting the blog.

As a long-distance train commuter, I know what it means to yearn for
Wi-Fi, especially if it’s free or reasonably priced.

Daily I’m forced to suppress the deadly sin of envy as I walk past
well-dressed executive-looking folk with their Verizon and Sprint
wireless cards, happily browsing and exchanging e-mails with
colleagues. On my salary, I can’t justify $60 a month on top of my
already hefty mobile phone bill.

But BART is now testing a promising mobile Wi-Fi system that
will do something that would challenge even those wireless laptop
cards.

It would provide a signal underground.

I wish I had a dime for every time I was on a cell call with my wife
and had to blurt out, “Gotta go. Tunnel.” That’s fine if you’re not
in the middle of a debate over the frequency of dog walking or buying
vs. renting. BART’s worked on a remedy for this, but so far it hasn’t reached my not-so-sweet spot in Berkeley.

“The main thrust of the test is to figure out if we can provide a
consistent Wi-Fi signal throughout the four downtown BART stations,”
explained BART front-man Linton Johnson.

And they don’t just want any Wi-Fi: “We’re looking at trying to
provide exceptionally high Wi-Fi speeds,” Johnson said, describing
the target as a “super-fast signal that’s rather faster than your
typical Wi-Fi speeds at home. It would be faster than you would get
at an Internet cafe, faster than DSL, faster than cable.”

Faster than cable, eh? I’m kinda doubtful on that score, but here’s
hoping …

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If and when the logistics
and technical stuff are worked out, the company doing the test,
Irvine-based Wi-Fi Rail Inc., wants to light up the entire BART
system.

The big question is what happens then. WFR is going to want to get
its money’s worth, and Johnson said that could be in the form of
their signing up subscribers and charging for access directly or they
could decide to lease out the wireless infrastructure to another
provider like AT&T or T-Mobile.

That it won’t be free may ruffle a lot of feathers, but I’ll be
happy if they do it for a reasonable fee. At this point, none of that
has been figured out.

Now if my friends at Capitol Corridor can find their magic bullet,
too, I’ll be one chipper commuter.

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4 Responses to “and on the 7th day, there was wi-fi”

  1. merri pike Says:

    Way to go !!! Too bad Ross M. is gone, he would have thoughly enjoyed this ride..on BART. Take care, we’ll talk soon. Merri

  2. Inside Bay Area > The Capricious Commuter > AC Transit: wi-fi king Says:

    [...] I was busy oohing and aahing over BART’s little Embarcadero-to-City Center wi-fi test, I neglected a new wi-fi service [...]

  3. Matthew Gast Says:

    Wi-Fi Rail’s service leaves a lot to be desired. What I found is that it doesn’t work so well off the platform, so I’ve gone back to my cell phone’s data connectivity for now. A more complete write-up is at http://blog.matthewgast.com/2007/05/04/wifi-rails-bart-service/

  4. Inside Bay Area > The Capricious Commuter > don’t let new BART card master you Says:

    [...] to provide services for BART riders, like TV screens on BART cars with news, info and ads and a wi-fi setup that, like these other initiatives, cost BART nothing except use of its good name to get people to [...]

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