Wi-Fi Rail about to sign a deal with BART

Via Glenn Fleishman, I found this Sacramento Bee article describing a imminent deal between BART and Wi-Fi rail. (I tried the Wi-Fi Rail service, but wasn’t impressed.)

The article has two points worth noting. First, the initial trial will expand from the four downtown San Francisco stations to the big underground areas:

If a deal is struck, Lee says WiFi Rail will install the system on BART’s most heavily traveled underground routes – in Oakland, San Francisco and the Transbay Tube – within 120 days. Coverage for BART’s entire 103-mile system would follow.

The underground core of the BART system runs from the four downtown SF stations, the Transbay Tube, and the Oakland Wye (roughly West Oakland north to 19th Street and west to Lake Merritt).

The article then quotes Wi-Fi Rail’s corporate counsel as adding 45 minutes to a workday:

“Take a BART rider who gets on at Walnut Creek and spends 45 minutes going to downtown San Francisco” and back, says [Gilles] Attia [Wi-Fi Rail’s corporate lawyer]. By plugging in, “he’s added 1 1/2 hours to his work day.”

Mr. Attia works in Sacramento, so he may not have first-hand experience with BART. Assuming that I’ve got the bounds of the expanded Wi-Fi Rail deployment right, it’s not that big. Lake Merritt to Civic Center (on my commute) is 16 minutes. 19th Street/Oakland to Civic Center is 18 minutes. 19th Street/Oakland to Lake Merritt is only 5 minutes.

Since my initial report on the unreliability of Wi-Fi Rail a year ago, I haven’t found that the service in train cars has improved. Service is faster and more robust on the platform, but I still find the service on the train spotty.

2 Responses to “Wi-Fi Rail about to sign a deal with BART”

  1. Bart says:

    FYI..the reason the service is spotty in the tunnels at this point is because the antennas and radios have not been installed on the BART cars yet. Each car essentially needs a “bridge” consisting of an antenna and a radio to carry/persist the network connection to the riders. WiFi Rail delivers the network/internet to the car, then the car delivers it to the end user (pda, laptop, ip phones, etc). When BART signs off on the deal, the cars get lit up, the tubes get lit up, and BART riders get incredibly fast internet. The fact that people are getting any connectivity at all in the downtown SF tunnels between stations is a testament to the strength of the signal on the platforms.

    Believe it or not, BART is the most innovative mass transit system in the country, if not the world. 100 million yearly riders. A system-wide wifi deployment paves the way for not only passenger wifi access, but also train monitoring/maintenance and homeland security applications. Its a win-win deal for BART and its patrons.

  2. matthew says:

    I’m not surprised that the signal reaches into the tubes from the platforms. As Boeing found out when doing testing of 802.11 on airplanes, a metal tube is an excellent container for radio signals.

    I somehow can’t believe that this makes BART the most innovative system in the world. The Altamont Commuter Express first installed Wi-Fi in 2003, and a wide variety of train systems have been working on installing Wi-Fi since then. The big difference with Wi-Fi Rail is using 802.11 as the connection from the train to the Internet. That may provide faster service, but the large number of access points required and the noted difficulties with 802.11 handoffs at high speed could be problematic.

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