The Sacramento to San Jose run has four vendors willing to try to stick high-speed wireless service on moving trains: The transportation authority that runs the 171-mile-long train line put out a request for information (RFI) in March, looking for companies that would have interest in trying lots of different ideas in this trial phase. Those who answered the RFI wouldn't be restricted from answering a later request for proposals (RFP), and the process developed for this train line could be the model for dozens of transportation systems in California and, likely, beyond.
The four selected companies out of 11 proposals are a interesting bunch: Concourse Communications, known for dual cell/Wi-Fi installation in airports and recently purchased by Boingo Wireless; EarthLink, about whom we all know plenty; Nomad Digital, which operates a WiMax-based service on a Brighton to London line in England; and ATCI, about whom I know nothing, which is the head of a consortium that will look into bidirectional satellite access.
A host of applications are intended for the network, and these companies will test various of them, including basics like email, Web browsing, and corporate VPN access, and more advanced or bandwidth-intensive functions like video streaming, video surveillance, and train diagnostic transmission. The tests will last until December, with a competitive RFP slated for spring 2007. No company excluded from the RFI process is excluded from bidding on the project in its RFP stage.
Update: ATCI wrote in to note that they typically build large projects that tie security in with technology, such as video surveillance and asset tracking. The company with partner Wi-Fi America is currently installing a wireless-based video surveillance system on a 72-mile commuter rail run in South Florida. The consortium they're part of for this California proposal includes Train-Phoenix of Madrid, which has tested 200 mph wireless communications successfully, and Pronto Networks, which provides back-end billing and authentication systems for hotspots and municipal networks.
In related news...Virgin Train announced that they would work with QinetiQ Rail to put Internet access on trains through a combination of HSDPA cell data, WiMax, Wi-Fi, and satellite access. The west coast of England line covers 1,500 km, and QinetiQ claims they'll hit 49 Mbps downstream for trains traveling within reach of WiMax (about 10 percent of the line) and 20 Mbps for the rest via satellite. The service will run at speeds up to 200 km/h.