Free Wi-Fi for Oregon Commuter Rail

Oregon’s first commuter rail line opened Friday, with free WiFi. Some 15 years in the making, TriMet’s Westside Express Service (WES grand opening) will provide weekday rush hour service between the cities of Beaverton, Tigard, Tualatin and Wilsonville. Travel time along the 15 mile route between Beaverton and Wilsonville is 27 minutes.

Besides free WiFi, each WES car can seat up to 80 people with spaces for two mobility devices and two bikes. Tickets cost $2.30

The diesel trains are unique in that the locomotive is integrated into the passenger vehicle. They were made by Colorado Railcar Manufacturing in Fort Lupton, Colorado.

The company’s financial difficulties were well documented by Les Zaitz in the Oregonian. The commuter railcars were finished only after TriMet seized control of the private company earlier this year. Agency officials said they took the unprecedented action after discovering that contract payments meant for TriMet’s cars had been diverted.

But the Wi-Fi works great. I checked it out yesterday on the maiden voyage using my Wi-Fi enabled Android phone. I got a strong signal from the two SSIDs (WES1 and WES2). Unfortunately, my Android batteries died shortly after getting onboard, so I didn’t get a good opportunity to check it out.

The Westside Express Service (WES) uses a ruggedized mobile router system based on the Cira (Cellular Internet Routing Appliance) designed by Eugene, Oregon-based Feeney Wireless. It uses EVDO for the backhaul.

Justin Bloom, CTO / Senior Engineer for Feeney Wireless tells DailyWireless that the system deployed on the WES was actually developed specifically for Trimet, using core components of their CiRA mobile router. The system uses Sprint’s EVDO Revision A data network and incorporates a load balancing functionality to allow the use of multiple cellular data radios connected simultaneously.

The CIRA mobile router has been battle tested in New York City taxicabs. Creative Mobile Technologies (CMT) provides New York City taxicabs with credit and debit card processing, media and advertising content, text messaging, interactive passengers maps, GPS and electronic trip sheets.

In other news, WiFi Rail is installing WiFi on BART trains in San Francisco. Bay Area Rapid Transit has a 20-year agreement with WiFi Rail to provide Wi-Fi access throughout the BART transit system and on all BART commuter trains.

The company installed a demonstration network on 2.2 miles of the BART Hayward test track and in the four downtown San Francisco stations. During the year of testing, more than 15,000 consumers registered and used the system more than 85,000 times, including live streaming video from the trains, proving the utility of the network.

Unlike other transit Wi-Fi projects Wi-Fi Rail doesn’t depend on satellite or cellular backhaul. The BART model uses “leaky coax” in the tunnels, backhauled by fiber-optics. Tests on moving trains – at over 65mph – have demonstrated upload/download speeds over 15 Mbps.

The goal is to outfit the 104 miles of track and the 43 stations by the end of 2011, said Cooper Lee, CEO of Wi-Fi Rail, the startup based in Sacramento County that will provide the communications system.

Once fully complete, subscribers will be charged about $30 a month, $9 a day, $6 for two hours and $300 for a year’s subscription, Lee said. The service will be offered at reduced rates until the entire system is up and running. BART riders may be able take advantage of free Internet access – but with a catch. Access will be cut off after 3 1/2 minutes and the users will have to endure 30 seconds of ads before being able to surf the Internet.

WiMAX may provide faster, cheaper backhaul for WiFi on trains and buses. Without the ads.

Transit riders in Portland can connect directly to Clear’s WiMAX cell sites. No Wi-Fi required. At Clearwire’s Launch Party in Portland this month, my friend Nigel Ballard (left), helped make the light rail cameras happen.

Creating the live train camera network was easy. WiMAX-enabled Netbooks (with cameras) pointed out the train window. Done.

Motorola’s tiny USB WiMAX dongle, provided connectivity inside Portland’s Streetcar and on demo buses at the Clearwire demo.

Unstrung notes that Comcast is conducting a technical trail in about 100 New Jersey Transit commuter rail stations. It is providing free wireless access if you’re a cable modem customer. Those subs can tap in applying the user names and passwords they use for their home-side cable modem services. This is strictly a technical trial,” says Comcast spokeswoman Mary Nell Westbrook, who stressed that the Comcast’s WiFi activities are completely separate to those involving WiMax.

Meanwhile, Cablevision’s Optimum WiFi service in Long Island has a similar subscriber arrangement for free Wi-Fi. Their WiFi cloud is much larger, however, extending to public parks, marinas, shopping centers, sports fields, and beaches across Long Island. Long Island Rail Road has WiFi at Penn Station and Grand Central for customers waiting for their trains.

Chrysler’s UConnect Web system, available with new Chysler, Jeep and Dodge models, costs $450, not including an installation fee and a monthly access fee of about $30.

The DSRC spectrum is divided into seven 10MHz wide channels. Channel 178 is the control channel which is restricted to safety communication.

The extreme two channels on either side are reserved for accident avoidance application and high power public safety communication usages. The rest are used for both safety and non safety applications.

Portland’s TriMet bus system is building a multi-modal trip planner using OpenLayers, an open-source visualization tool for GeoServer data, that will let people plan trips involving multiple forms of transportation.

OpenStreetMap is a free and editable map of the world. Founded in 2004 in the United Kingdom in response to the need for a free geospatial data source, it is a community-driven project, allowing for anyone to edit and contribute information.

Yesterday, after my WES commuter rail trip, I jumped on Portland’s MAX train to head back home…but I was dying for a pizza. I wished for a “pizza-to-go” touch screen.

Maybe that’s the next big thing for commuters. Fast food.

Dailywireless’ connected transit stories include; Caltrans Installs Solar-powered Radar Sensors, Wi-Fi: Land, Sea & Air, Clearwire’s Launch Party in Portland, The Magic Bus, Bullet Train Wi-Fi, Traffic Cameras and ITS, WiFi on Trains, Mobilizing WiFi on Trains & Cars , TrainFi On the Move,The Connected Bus, Buses Get WiFi, Vehicle Tracking Saves Money, Boingo Gets Ferry-Fi, Feeney Does WES, Cars Talking WiMAX, Motorola Car Computer, Chrysler Offers Internet Access, Portland Commuter Rail Readies Wi-Fi, Chrysler Rolls Out U-connect, Ford Sync, PePWave Mobility: Connectivity for Vehicles, Civic Booster, Broadband Wireless Modems, and Kyocera KR2 Mobile Router.

XO-2 Laptop: Open Everything

One Laptop Per Child has now deployed close to one million XO-1s in the field, reports The Guardian.

Interest is now turning to a follow-on project: the XO-2. The vision is for a $75 dual-screen device that’s held like a book. You can also turn it around and use one of the screens as the keyboard.

“The first generation is a laptop that can be a book; the next generation will a book that can be a laptop,” says Nicholas Negroponte.

OLPC News is skeptical of the XO-2 laptop

I am excited too, but I temper my joy with the nagging feeling that this is another Negropontism – spin and hype that has little relevance to what is or will actually happen. OLPC’s history is full of grand pronouncements, from string power to a view source key that have not come to pass.

Negroponte says, “One important thing about the XO-2 is that we’re going to do it as an open source hardware programme. The XO-1 was really designed as if we were Apple. The XO-2 will be designed as if we were Google – we’ll want people to copy it. We’ll make the constituent parts available. We’ll try and get it out there using the exact opposite approach that we did with the XO-1.

If One Laptop Per Child really opens up all its hardware intellectual property, especially the dual mode screen, then this is a radical change for them and real game-changer for everyone looking at information and communication technologies, says OLPC News.

New Bill to Delay DTV Switchover

The House recently killed a bill to delay the broadcast digital TV transition from February 17 to June 12, but a new bill has reportedly made it through the Senate (again) and could be considered by the House (again) by the middle of next week, reports Unstrung.

Broadcasting & Cable, citing an aide to senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), reports that a new version of the bill has been blessed by the Senate unanimously, and could head to the House by next Wednesday (Feb. 4), where a simple majority vote will get it through.

Earlier this week, the bill required a two-thirds House vote, but fell short, leaving the last day of analog television in the United States at its current, February 17th, date.

Despite high awareness of the DTV switch, a recent Consumer Report survey found that among Americans aware of the transition, 63% had major misconceptions about what steps they need to take to prepare.

Tranzeo: Go for Indonesia WiMAX

Tranzeo Wireless and partner Teknologi Riset Global (TRG), a subsidiary of leading telecommunication infrastructure provider the Indonesian Tower Group, are moving forward to produce WiMAX subscriber units for the Indonesian market.

The Indonesian government announced on January 22, 2009 two ministry decrees and three regulations releasing spectrum at 2.3GHz and 3.3GHz for wireless broadband access across all regions of Indonesia. The decrees and regulations outline the migration of existing services at 3.5GHz to 3.3GHz in addition to new services at 2.3GHz and 3.3GHz.

The TRG WiMAX system will enable Indonesian telecom operators to provide next-generation network services to subscribers who have never had access to more than conventional Internet services.

The Philippine telecommunications services market generated US$5.6 billion in 2008 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 4.8 percent in during the 2008-2013 period, according to a the latest Country Intelligence Report from Pyramid Research.

Nortel Bails on WiMAX

Nortel, the Canadian-based equipment vendor that recently entered bankruptcy protection, will discontinue its mobile WiMAX business as part of a recovery plan to streamline its operations.

The decision also brings to an end its joint agreement with Alvarion, its WiMAX technology partner. Nortel said that exiting mobile WiMAX would allow it to “narrow its focus, better manage its investments and strengthen its broader carrier business to better position itself for long-term competitiveness.”

The agreement with Alvarion, announced in June 2008, involved the integration of Alvarion’s advanced radio access network technology with Nortel’s core network solutions, backhaul solutions, and global services. It also covered the resale by Nortel of the Alvarion platform of WiMAX access products.

Nortel’s existing mobile WiMAX customers will now transfer to Alvarion. In a separate statement, Alvarion said the end of its alliance with Nortel would trim around US$2.4 million of its fourth quarter 2008 revenues, which it is due to announce on 4 February.

Nortel Networks filed for creditor protection in Canada, the US and Europe on 14 January this year, having seen its shares sink to penny stock status on the Toronto Stock Exchange. However, president and CEO Mike Zafirovski said the company “is still very much in business and our commitment to customers remains unwavering.” Nortel’s decision to discontinue mobile WiMAX mirrors the decision by the similarly beleaguered vendor Alcatel-Lucent, which is also winding down its WiMAX business as part of a cost cutting strategy and will instead focus on LTE technology.

The Bottom Line for 2008

I’ve still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission.
2001: A Space Odyssey

The annual results Verizon Communications, announced this week, show that broadband data traffic is booming, notes Light Reading.

Verizon Wireless’s data revenues were $10.7 billion in 2008, up 44 percent over 2007. During 2008, data accounted for fully 27 percent of total wireless service revenues. Two in every three of Verizon Wireless’s retail customers now have a CDMA 1X EV-DO-enabled device. At the end of 2008, Verizon Wireless had 72.1 million total customers. It does not include the 13 million subscribers recently inherited from Verizon’s acquisition of Alltel, which will make them the top U.S. cellular carrier.

Other cellular results from 2008 include:

AT&T said 1.9 million iPhones were activated in Q4, with 40 percent coming from other operators. Verizon’s BlackBerry Storm doesn’t have its own app store while T-Mobile’s G1, introduced in October, is currently limited to free apps.

Customers looking for higher-end smartphones seem to be gravitating toward the two biggest carriers rather than T-Mobile, which is often seen as a value player in the market.

T-Mobile’s G-1 did not move the meter. T-Mobile didn’t provide sales figures for the phone, but did indicate that around 20 percent of phones sold to new customers and existing, upgrading customers were “smart” phones like the G1 that use their new “3G” (AWS-band) data network.

The graph (above) shows the speed (in days) at which each competing handset achieved one million sales. Smart phones made up 14% of all mobile devices shipped globally in 2008 and should increase to more than 17% of the total in 2009, according to ABI Research.

According to Heavy Reading, 3G operators have doubled their cellular backhaul to 20-25 Mbit/s in the last 18 months. A majority expect they will have at least 40 Mbit/s of backhaul capacity deployed at some high-capacity sites within three years. Sprint use DragonWave backhaul gear for their WiMax deployments.

In his election campaign, U.S. President Barack Obama expressed his general inclination toward the net-neutrality model. At stake in “net neutrality” are the terms of low-cost mobile broadband services that support all kinds of real-time multimedia applications.

Sprint and Intel are gambling that the next big thing is data. Whether WiMax will deliver positive results is still unknown.