Trains get unwired (subscr. req.): Several hundred trains will be equipped with Wi-Fi for access and WiMax, satellite, and cell transceivers for backhaul by the end of 2007, I report in The Economist magazine's Sept. 21 issue, now online. In talks with rail operators and Internet access providers in the US and Europe, it's become clear that the phenomenon is bigger than I realized. When I set out to write the story this summer, I thought there were dozens of trains equipped with Internet access worldwide. In fact, my count is at least 100 (as of a few weeks ago). That's trains as in an engine plus cars--not train lines (there are over a dozen lines covered), nor individual train carriages. The Dutch railroad alone expects to equip 1,400 carriages representing hundreds of assemble trains.
An item there was no room for in this article is that electrical outlets are being added to existing trains and have become a requirement on new passenger cars. With outlets, the train becomes a far superior place to work than any alternative for commuters. Many commuter trains offer wide seats, trays, and business-class coaches or amenities, too. Let's see--drive by myself, get no work done, burn gas by the ton that costs a fortune, or, an inexpensive and comfortable trip with Internet access the whole way? I foresee big changes in commuter rail.
Today also brings an expected announcement, which is that Virgin will work with Nomad Digital, the folks behind the Brighton-to-London line, to equip all of its English West Coast trains with Internet service. Nomad uses fixed WiMax at regular intervals to provide service, and notes in this article that they will have the third-generation cellular data standard HSDPA as a backup to cover gaps in service. Top speed will be about 2 Mbps on this line; they can achieve 6 Mbps intra-network on the Brighton line, their head told me.