More UK train firms commit to on-board Wi-Fi

WISP signs three more partners

UK Wi-Fi provider Broadreach has said it will bring on-the-move wireless Internet access to three more UK train operators.

The company, which provides retail Wi-Fi services under the ReadyToSurf brand, is already working with Virgin Trains - which operates the Virgin Cross Country and Virgin West Coast train-operating companies (TOCs) - to deliver WLANs to passengers.

The Virgin deal is expected to bear fruit later this year as the company refreshes its rolling stock and uses the opportunity to add the satellite and back-up GSM/GRPS links the system, developed by Canada's PointShot Wireless, uses.

A second operator, GNER, is rolling out its own service on its East Coast Line trains out of King's Cross.

Broadreach said three other train operators had agreed to allow it to offer Wi-Fi services on their trains, with trial runs to commence before the end of the year and commercial roll-outs early in 2005. It did not name names. However, one of the three is believed to be Eurostar, which is expected to being trialling Wi-Fi later this year.

Together, Virgin and the other three operators account for 20 per cent of the UK rail industry, which comprises 29 TOCs, including Virgin's two and GNER. They run over 700 trains, all of which will be gaining Wi-Fi support over the next four years, Broadreach said.

In a survey of 1600 UK rail passengers conducted in March and April this year on behalf of Broadreach, some 78 per cent of business travellers said they are interested in using Wi-Fi on train journeys. And 72 per cent said the provision of such services would persuade them to take trips by train rather than by car or aircraft.

Since most of them are willing to pay up to £12 for the privilege, depending on the lenth of the journey, that's a big motivation for TOCs to roll-out wireless Internet technology. Around half of their business customers already carry a laptop on board - almost a quarter take a PDA with them. How many of those devices are already WLAN-enabled is not known, however. ®

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