BART nearing deal for Wi-Fi in trains

BART might soon log on to a wireless deal that would allow commuters to send e-mails or play online video games right from their train seats — even while darting under the San Francisco Bay.

Officials from the transit agency say they’re in the midst of negotiations with Sacramento-area startup WiFi Rail Inc. to provide wireless Internet to all of its trains and stations, but were mum on the details.

WiFi Rail said Wednesday said it hopes for an agreement within the next few months. Once a deal is signed, wireless service will be available on the most heavily trafficked BART routes in about four months, including San Francisco, Oakland and the Transbay Tube, the company said. Connections on all tracks would follow.

“I can happily confirm we are working with them,” BART spokesman Linton Johnson said. Recent testing of the wireless service “has been for the most part successful,” he said.

The testing continues today. Preliminary wireless service, which is free, is already being provided in all four San Francisco downtown stations, in the tubes between the Civic Center and Powell Street stations and on a 2.6-mile stretch of track in south Hayward. More than 8,100 registered users have signed on to the service, the company said.

“We’ve been conducting nonstop tests and have been able to maintain 15 to 20 Mbps [megabits per second] at train speeds of up to 80 mph — and with no drop-offs,” said Michael Cromar, the company’s executive vice president.

The connection is up to 10 times faster than regular DSL and about 80 times that of dial-up speed, the company said. As part of construction, the service would travel into tunnels through a special wiring called “leaky coax,” much of which many of the tunnels already have in place. Also, pole-mounted radio and antennas would line the tracks, and wireless access receivers would be mounted atop and within the train cars, according to the company.

The testing period has been at no cost to the commuter, but riders can expect subscription fees at some point. Once the connection is fully installed, commuters would have two options: Free-of-charge as long as you watch an advertisement before logging on; or pay a monthly fee, anywhere from $20 to $30 per month, and options for daily and weekly subscriptions, Cromar said.

“[The wireless service] works like a very fast local connection in an office,” Cromar said.

maldax@examiner.com

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