Receive new posts as email.
This site operates as an independent editorial operation. Advertising, sponsorships, and other non-editorial materials represent the opinions and messages of their respective origins, and not of the site operator. Part of the FM Tech advertising network.
Entire site and all contents except otherwise noted © Copyright 2001-2010 by Glenn Fleishman. Some images ©2006 Jupiterimages Corporation. All rights reserved. Please contact us for reprint rights. Linking is, of course, free and encouraged.
Talk of the Nation looks at whether the distractions of in-car Internet will add to driving's dangers: They aren't even looking at whether or not you are manipulating devices while driving; rather, whether the increased distraction even with voice recognition software for handling tasks is a danger on the order of talking on the mobile or texting.
It's an ugly truth proved repeatedly and extensively in the lab that hands-free devices don't reduce the dangers of talking on a cell phone. The act of talking with a remote person is what causes your brain to work differently; it's not motor functions, but higher functions, that add to the risk.
A researcher in this field, Nicholas Ashford at MIT, said on the program, "...interactive communication technology, which is the kind that's being put in the automobiles now, is even more demanding of higher-level visual and audio functioning, and so it doesn't take a brain surgeon to realize the brain is compromised." He also said, "There's two freedoms to be balanced: the freedom to do anything in your automobile, which I would argue should be less clear than doing whatever you want in your home. But there's also a freedom from harm for your passengers, for the pedestrians, and these freedoms have to be balanced."
Ashford also noted on the issue of talking on the phone at all, "The evidence shows very clearly that whether it's hands-free or it isn't hands-free, there is a significant, a four-fold increase in accident potential."
A caller notes that he's a much safer driver using Ford's system because it lets him focus on the road, but Ashford differentiates between anecdote and statistics.
Multi-tasking is a myth that our brain does a great job to foster.
(Graphic above from the NPR show Car Talk, the hosts of which have been far out in front of the issue of talking while driving. I've seen the less polite bumpersticker, too: "Shut Up and Drive.")
Cadillac gets in-car hotspot option: General Motors will offer a dealer-installable version of Autonet Mobile's cellular gateway for its CTS line of cars under the Cadillac WiFi by Autonet Mobile label. The $500 device offers Wi-Fi access to a $30-$60/month cellular backhaul (1 GB or 5 GB). Most of the reporting is quoting a $30/month for service, omitting the 1 GB limit.
The new model is a little slicker than what Autonet has previously offered: it's smaller, which is great, but it's designed to dock making it transportable among cars. It's unclear whether there's a proprietary charger or dock in place; if it's truly mobile with an AC adapter, then this becomes a far better deal for a business traveler than Autonet's apparent current family market.
Security might be an issue: Autonet Mobile's FAQ says the device supports only WEP encryption, which no one should be seriously relying on since 2004. I don't suspect a legion of cracker-drivers, scanning for Autonet systems to penetrate, but WEP provides no level of reliable security, and shouldn't have been engineered into any device designed after 2003.
I do question the utility of this for folks other than road warriors, but Autonet Mobile has said (and I have heard through other sources and other articles) that families apparently are so Internet-bound that paying $500 plus $360 or $720 per year for continuous access is a worthwhile household expense.
Won't somebody think of the children? I guess they did: The Birmingham, UK, Green Bus--a low-emissions double-decker student transportation system--has installed Icomera Moovbox M Series gateways to give kids Internet access while en route to and from school. The system carries 1,400 kids each day. The system offers real-time tracking for parents, which sounds obsessive, until you realize that figuring out when your kid will be getting off the bus during the dreary, rainy days of winter is a big advantage.
The Green Bus is not a school-funded service, but an independently operated business that's combining a "green" message, convenience to parents and students, and technology to bring schoolbussery into the 21st century, I guess. A yearly academic full access pass is £475 (about $700). They're planning expansions beyond Birmingham this fall.
The in-car Internet system gets reviews: Autonet is packaging a car-oriented router that combines a cell data modem and subscription with a Wi-Fi gateway. The device costs $500 and plans are $30 per month for a measly 1 GB of data or $60 for 5 GB. The higher rate is precisely what you'd pay a carrier directly for such an item with a 2-year contract; Autonet requires just a 1-year commitment. Unlike portable cell routers that come with car-power adapters, Autonet's device is installed in the trunk or back, and is wired into a car's electrical system. Antennas are part of the unit, however.
Edward Baig of USA Today reminded potential buyers that a 3G connection requires a 3G cell network, and traveling in areas with spotty or no 3G coverage could be disappointing. Overall, he's not unhappy with it. He concludes, "Having a rolling hot spot is an appealing, if expensive, service for a lot of families. Just keep your expectations — and those of your kids — in check."
The Wall Street Journal's elder tech statesman Walt Mossberg finds the service too slow for video beyond YouTube snippets, just as Baig does, but seems to agree that for the right person or family, having continuous Internet access is worth the cost.
I haven't tested Autonet, but the router's cost isn't out of line with similar systems: Junxion, acquired recently by Sierra Wireless, sells its devices for $600 to $700 a pop, with discounts for quantity, because they're aimed at corporate road warriors.
But I can't see the benefit of getting a box with a sealed 3G card permanently installed in your car. For those who might find the Autonet a reasonable choice, the Kyocera KR2 ($220) coupled with the 3G EVDO card of your choice--including tethered handsets. The KR2 is portable, cheaper, and more flexible. The disadvantage is having to use a car-power adapter, an increased likelihood of theft if left in the car, and a unit that's not designed to be as rugged.
Wired writes that airplane-Fi is bursting out all over: I'll quibble with the writer's assertion that inflight Internet has been promised "for at least four years now." It wasn't promised. It was delivered with Boeing's Connexion, which turned out to be too expensive, too heavy, too slow (relatively), and timed wrong for the industry. The latest wave hasn't been promised for very long, unless you count OnAir, which was promising mobile telephony and texting for about four years, but has been hung out to dry by its satellite partner, Inmarsat, which has suffered huge delays in launching its birds for service.
The writer says that air-to-ground service is like Wi-Fi in the sky, but it's using cellular data standards, and so it's much more like mobile broadband in the sky. He also writes that there's 3 Mbps, which is the combined up-and-down estimated throughput of AirCell, the only firm that can operate such service in the U.S. for commercial flights. The next graf mentions that satellite-based Internet access is coupled with, uh, 802.11b (yes, B) access points. I think that's an error, innit?
And the analysis of JetBlue's move is incorrect. The purchase of Verizon's Airfone network is about positioning equipment, not using out-of-date gear that can't be employed for phone calls on commercial airliners.
I'd suggest a more appropriate metaphor be used than the one in this sentence: "[Lufthansa] hopes the experience is more fruitful than its ill-fated 2004 deal with Boeing's Connexion service, which crashed and burned when Boeing shut it down two years later." Beyond the distasteful reference, Connexion was shut down in an orderly fashion, and Lufthansa was one carrier that loved it, and tried to get it to stay in operation, and, failing that, to build a consortium to revive it.
The article finishes with a set of incorrect conclusions:
"There hasn't been much news about how airlines plan to charge for these services." In fact, we know pretty much that it will cost roughly $6 an hour, $10 for a 3-hour flight or less, and $13 for a flight longer than 3 hours. That's from Aircell in various statements, and it appears to be roughly the charges expected from its competitors in the US. In Europe, mobile calls and texting prices are also known: about US$2.50 per minute for calls, and something like 25 to 50 cents for text messages, not much more than the egregious ground pricing.
"If the industry's cash crunch gets much worse, in-flight broadband might be mothballed before it even gets off the ground." It's unclear what part of the expense the airlines are bearing. In my discussions with firms over the last five years, it's clear to me that this round involves the providers bearing more of the cost--and hence the lower installation cost involved--but also retaining more of the revenue.
Wi-Fi a-go-go onboard buses: The New York Daily News checks in on the trend to put Internet access via Wi-Fi on board East Coast buses. The article notes that Greyhound's new sidewalk-pickup BoltBus service among corridor cities has provoked the long-running Chinatown buses to bolt on Wi-Fi as well. The Chinatown Bus Association says here that their bus tickets are cheaper and thus more competitive--but one of their members has already added Wi-Fi, and others are considering it. MegaBus also serves the coast and has Internet access, as well as DC2NY. The biggest problem, though? Passengers demand AC outlets, and only BoltBus has them on every bus. LimoLiner (New York to Boston) isn't mentioned here, but is one of the earliest firms I'm aware of with on-board Internet, starting in 2004, and they also have power to every seat.
Dash is accepting pre-orders for its $600 subscription-based navigation device with Internet connectivity: Using GPS for location and GPRS and Wi-Fi for connectivity, the Dash Express constantly updates traffic data from its own sources and other Dash devices--unclear on quite how. The Dash Express combines connected PDA features with mapping and navigation. The search is driven by Yahoo Local. You and others can email addresses straight to the device. Monthly fees are $10 with a two-year contract and $13 per month without one. The color screen is 480 by 272 pixels measuring 4.3 inches diagonally. Battery life is two hours but it comes with a car adapter, naturally.
Pepwave offers up a Wi-Fi bridge intended for vehicles: The several models of Pepwave CarFi--sounds like they're borrowing my mode of naming Wi-Fi market segments--have no backhaul, like a cell router. Rather, they're designed to hook into wide-area Wi-Fi networks, providing consistent relayed service in a car or bus as it moves about a coverage area. The models are designed for mounting and use a standard 12-volt power supply and external antenna. Three 2.4 GHz models come in 100 mW, 200 mW, and 400 mW versions; there's also a single 802.11a/5 GHz model.
Pepwave Mobility can keep an active Wi-Fi connection at up to 75 mph, the company says: The device is the first mobile router I'm aware of that's designed as a separate product, rather than as part of an integrated package that includes propriety elements and often installation and maintenance. They have no per se competitor that I'm aware of for this segment. The company plans to sell the unit to service providers and others starting at $495 for a 100 mW radio (European market), with higher prices for 200 mW and 400 mW radios (U.S.).
Enabling mobile communications in commuter vehicles was supposed to be one of the ancillary benefits of city-wide wireless networks, but it's been mostly ignored. Most commuter-based Internet access over Wi-Fi uses satellite or cellular backhaul.
That's a lot of qualifications in my headline: The Washington State Ferry system has the very largest Wi-Fi operation for regular transportation in the United States by far--they carry 50 percent of the passenger trips in the US across their boats--but it's rather hard to find No. 2, because there aren't many production Wi-Fi services in effect. There are trials here and a few buses or train cars there. ACE Transit in the Bay Area thus clearly becomes the second largest commuter-Fi and largest land-based-Fi service today.
Internet access is available on specially marked buses--78 MCI buses and a dozen others--that cross the Bay Bridge, San Mateo Bridge, and Dumbarton Bridge. The system has 11,300 daily riders. The service is free, with the capital expense funded by a county grant. AC Transit's monthly cost, they say, is just $60 per month--the cost of the cellular data backhaul. They say adding just one new commuter per bus per month would cover that cost. (The press release isn't posted at this writing.)
AC Transit latest bus line in SF Bay Area to add or test Wi-Fi: Checking my archives, it seems that nearly every transportation authority with long runs around the San Francisco Bay Area is considering or testing Wi-Fi-based Internet access on buses. The latest is AC Transit, which carries 11,000 passengers daily across three major Bay bridges (the big one, Dumbarton, and San Mateo-Hayward).
Service will be free. It will operate on 78* green motorcoaches starting in stages in March, and all ready by April. The cost for the buses is just $138,000 to equip and $60 per month per bus for service, the price of a long-term cell data contract.
*The article states 78 buses and 88 buses; AC Transit's site notes 79 buses in this category.
A $20 bus ride from Talinn to Riga gives you Wi-Fi en route: Cyrus Farivar takes reports on a five-hour bus ride in the Baltics on what is probably the only cross-border Wi-Fi bus option in this audio piece for PRI's The World. (There's a train line in Sweden that has Wi-Fi and stops over the border in Copenhagen, Denmark.) The bus is a pretty high-end model, with a number of other amenities. "Stewardesses" are in the future.
Now in interesting circular relationships, Veljo Haamer, Estonia's Johnny Wi-Fi-seed, took a ride on the Capitol Corridor train line partly because of reading about my coverage of it here at Wi-Fi Networking News. He took the idea back and advocated for adding Wi-Fi to the line.
The upcoming test areas for Wireless Silicon Valley will include use of the 5.9 GHz automotive band: The project has emphasized public safety and personal access, but it was clear from the get-go that every form of wireless will get a work out, with Cisco and IBM having the opportunity to build systems that they could then sell worldwide. The reserved 5.9 GHz band will allow automotive telemetry, so that cars can provide real-time information to centralized systems, warn drivers of problems, and provide traffic information that's highly localized.
The city in Scotland will get Wi-Fi, cell antennas in subway: The plan is to hook up the 15 subway stations in Glasgow with Wi-Fi, as well as extending mobile phone service. The hope is that this service can be one of the tools to bolster a 2014 Olympics bid.
Three buses will be equipped with Wi-Fi-based Internet access on routes in Utah: The trial service willbe on Route 73 from Ogden to Salt Lake City. If the trial is successful, the Utah Transit Authority could add service on all 40 of its routes. A commuter-rail service will launch in 2008, and the authority may install Internet access on the trains, as well.
The transit authority for a chunk of the east side of the San Francisco Bay adds trans-bay Wi-Fi on buses: AC Transit, which handles Contra Costa and Alameda county transportation, is testing Wi-Fi starting next week, with a plan to have production service in the fall. A number of Bay Area transit authorities are testing or deploying Wi-Fi for commuters, which have commutes that probably are rivaled only by metropolitan Atlanta for duration and variability.
AC Transit would deploy Wi-Fi-based Internet access on 79 buses that cross the three lengthy bridges on the Bay: Dumbarton (I used to live near the east end of that bridge), San Mateo (a very windy bridge), and Bay (intersected by an island). The service will be free, and is funded by the state. The idea is to see if the bus could offer a competitive advantage with this amenity. The trips are long enough to get work down, bumpily, but short enough that a second battery wouldn't be needed.
The story in the San Francisco Chronicle notes that BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is in talks to consider on-board Internet access, but there are no plans to move forward, the article says. (A Jim Allison is quoted about this; this is a different Jim Allison, also working for BART, than the one involved in the Capitol Corridor Internet access project.)
The Belen to Santa Fe commuter rail route will be equipped with Wi-Fi transmitters: It will likely be free. Albuquerque, between Belen and Santa Fe, has free Wi-Fi at its airport and on 12 buses. The rail Wi-Fi will hook directly into fiber-optic lines that parallel the tracks. They're estimating 200 access points to cover the approximately 100 miles of track. Limited rail services begins in June with the full line in operation by 2008. The rail authority will bid out the Wi-Fi service operations.
A private firm in Melburne wants to install Wi-Fi on Victoria's public transportation: They'll equip bus and train routes with free service while displaying information and advertising. The excitingly named 802! has been testing service, and can provide seamless handoffs at 100 km/h. There's a 500 KB file download limit from 4 am to midnight.
Three buses in Cincinnati will have Wi-Fi hotspots onboard: It's a one-week trial, but could become permanent.
A majority railway authority in the Bay Area and counties has issued a request for companies to test broadband wireless along one route: The Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA) operates along a 171-mile route that's packed with commuters--1.25 million passenger trips a year. Folks commute in from the foothills and mountains, from the SF Bay to the state capital, and among all points in between. Sixteen stations serve the route from Auburn (northeast of Sacramento) to San Jose. The CCJPA operates this trans-county service with BART providing management support under contract.
It's an ideal place for commuters to obtain broadband service on trains, and it's ideal for the authority to use broadband for a huge variety of operational necessities, including on-board security, telemetry, train positioning, and passenger services. The CC line has a few trains hooked up with satellite-based Wi-Fi, and has for some time, but they looking for a much more comprehensive solution that leverages all the benefits of the line's length.
The RFI asks interested companies to consider funding their own trials from Aug. 2006 to Feb. 2007, the results of which will be studied closely not just by the CCJPA, but also by a host of other involved agencies, including Amtrak, the Altamount Commuter Express (ACE), Metrolink down in Los Angeles county, and Caltrans (the state department of transportation). ACE has the longest-running on-board Internet access service--free, even--for its long commuter route from Stockton to San Jose; they just upgraded its service.
The project's principal planner, Jim Allison, said in an interview this morning, "The timing is right to test this sort of application, to learn from these tests. There should be a viable market for these systems in both the urban and the rural settings." Allison works on CCJPA projects under BART's management contract with the authority.
Allison said that no backhaul method would be ruled out, although it's clear from examining the RFI that WiMax might wind up the best technology because of several factors. The CCJPA is explicitly allowing consideration in this RFI for using railway property, rights of way, and fiber optic (where available) to provide service to nearby businesses and residences, as well for trains. User access must be via 802.11b/g with a minimum of 3 Mbps for railway operations (1.5 Mbps in each direction), and 750 Kbps/250 Kbps minimum for passengers.
Because this isn't an RFP (request for proposals), companies can experiment without prejudice, and participation in the RFI process isn't necessary to respond later to an RFP . But the RFI will inform the procurement and RFP process, and it may be that lessons learned here could roll out in a very similar fashion to railways across the region or state. One to three proposals will be accepted for trials along the route, which encompasses hills, mountains, urban cores, and rural populations. An information meeting is April 12, with a submission deadline of May 23. A selection or selections will be announced July 3.
Fiber may be of particular interest as some railways own their own, while others have private fiber on their right of way that can be leased. Pumping a local wireless connection right into fiber could enable one set of services at train stations or other railroad property, as well as providing significant bandwidth for licensed wireless relays to distribute service out across a town. (This is, in fact, part of EarthLink's municipal broadband model in which fiber is used at very few points with licensed wireless used to aggregate traffic to fiber points of presence from clusters of WiMax-like Canopy base stations.)
The CCJPA expects this trial to attract worldwide attention because of the interest by almost all rail authorities in adding broadband. "There's a lot of rail agencies in California and frankly around the states and internationally that would be interested in this as well," Allison said.
The passengers on this commuter rail are fairly likely to use a Wi-Fi network if one might judge demographically. The CCJPA found in a 2005 study that average income was $80,000 and 48th percentile (near median) income was $75,000. 56% of passengers travel for business, and 71% of that group carry a laptop or PDA. No word on how many of the 44% carry laptops--students are a likely large demographic, too. Even better, 33% of computer and PDA users have connected to the existing Wi-Fi service on board for an average of 78 minutes. The route passes by frequent convention sites in San Jose and Santa Clara (the Great America stop).
Of course, one consideration in ultimately building this network is increasing ridership, a perennial concern on most public transportation systems. If operational costs can be conserved through efficiency or lower expenses in using a privately built network, and if passengers become more productive (or have more enjoyment) and thus ride the rails more, that means lower costs per passenger (lower fixed costs) and higher passenger revenue. Allison noted, "If we're rolling along with empty seats, you put another person in that seat--that's instant revenue."
(A personal note here. My father once owned the Fremont Centerville train station during an odd period in its life when it was a furniture store. It's been a train station again for several years, and is part of the ACE system. It's a nice turn of events when my family's past catches up with my present interests.)
Hampton Jitney runs its buses not just between Manhattan and its antipodes in Long Island: The company also runs a car-and-bus shuttle (you plus a car) down to Florida's east and west coasts, with an Ambassador option. It's $1,528 each way for two people in a 31-person bus and their car (on car trailers), and now the company also offers Wi-Fi, as it does on its New York fleet.
Spain's Renfe rail operator will add Wi-Fi: They've been testing a service they plan to roll out using satellite Internet access.
The story trumpets wireless, but it ain't Wi-Fi: Underground stations through the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system have had cellular capacity added so that calls and data can be sent. San Francisco stations were first to get the enhancement; more of SF along with Oakland and Berkeley stations will follow. The deal will bring hundreds of thousands of dollars of year to BART's pockets, and eventually millions.
It's interesting that Wi-Fi isn't mentioned as part of this: at the moment, the lowest-hanging fruit is certainly cellular reception. Because this is a deal the cell companies want, it was unlikely to feature Wi-Fi. If San Francisco gets a Wi-Fi network built for it, which seems almost certain at this point, you can imagine that that provider would want to cut a deal with BART, and extra-municipal entity that encompasses a huge part of the Bay and out into what were the hinterlands.