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Paris Metro firm to run Wi-Fi buses

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Wireless Internet access will soon move beyond railways and onto the roads if RATP, the company which runs the Paris Metro and the capital's bus services, has its way.

The organisation will next week show off a Wi-Fi enabled bus at the Paris-hosted Public Transport Exhibition 2004. It will also launch a public trial of the technology, on the number 38 bus, which runs between North and South Paris. Buses on the route have already been equipped with Wi-Fi, RATP said.

Travellers will be able to connect their (suitably equipped) PDAs and notebooks with the bus' on-board access point. However, Internet connectivity is only provided at Wi-Fi speeds when the vehicle passes within range of a fixed hotspot - at a major terminus, for example. For the rest of the journey, connectivity is maintained through a GPRS link.

The system will hop between these two network technologies without interrupting users' access sessions, promised Xavier Aubry, marketing chief of Franco-Swedish software company Appear Networks, which has provided the server code for the RATP trial. Cisco is offering the hardware.

RATP plans to use the system to deliver up-to-the-minute information to bus drivers and staff, and to allow them to communicate with their HQ. For example, the company foresees bus drivers using the system to alerts the authorities to obstructions likes cars parked in bus lanes.

RATP also envisages using the technology to provide travel data to passengers. At this stage, it's not clear whether they will be offered full Internet access, or simply RATP-provided information. ®

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