Saturday, May 24, 2008

SF's BART System in Talks for System-wide Wi-Fi Coverage

The San Francisco Bay Area's BART system (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is in talks with WiFi Rail, Inc., to provide system-wide wi-fi service after a successful trial program. Phase three of the demonstration program recently completed, and in a small blurb on WiFi Rail's home page, the company said:
BART Board of Directors greenlights WiFi Rail systemwide implementation.
In fact, an update on the initiative was presented on Thursday at a meeting of BART's board of directors.

Wi-Fi Rail is will build the network, for an estimated $20 million, at no cost to BART. BART plans to use the wi-fi system to enable its in-car security cameras for live viewing. BART would also receive a licensing fee from WiFi Rail.

How does WiFi Rail make a profit? Ads. Riders will be able to use the service free with ads that pop up every few minutes. Alternatively they can buy a monthly subscription. According to Michael Cromar, CFO of Wi-Fi Rail, subscription would be priced similar to other hot-spot services (about $20 and $30 per month). Speeds is between 15 and 22 Mbps (both up and down), and bandwidth is shared between the riders in each car.

Based on the trials so far, there was no degradation with up to eight riders in a car. Of course, being the SF Bay Area, there are likely to be more than eight users who want to grab bandwidth - if they can get seats that is. BART has become so crowded during peak commute hours that BART has removed six seats in some cars.

This will just make snagging a seat even more of a priority.

Although BART has greenlighted the system, negotiations have not yet completed. Once they complete, Cromar estimated commercial rollout could be completed in four months.

Looking at this from the perspective of a technophile, I like the idea. However, as a commuter, I'm not sure I want still more disruption to my ride. It's bad enough that people talk excessively loudly on their cell phones, and the cards are already crowded enough. People unfolding their notebooks in their laps are just going to make things worse.

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