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Washington State Ferries (WSF) has pledged to equip vessels on four of its routes with public Wi-Fi access. And yesterday, it switched on the first wireless-enabled ferry, the Klickitat, to test the technology.

The Klickitat plies the waves between Port Townsend and Keystone, across the Admiralty Inlet north of Seattle. Travellers with wireless-enabled PDAs and notebooks can access the Internet from the vessel's passenger deck and from each terminal's embarkation area. The service provides 802.11a, b and g coverage.

The ship-to-shore connection is a high speed link that operates in the 5.8GHz spectrum that can run at up to 30Mbps, WSF said. Bad weather shouldn't hinder the backbone connection, the company added, though the line-of-sight link can be broken by passing ships. An automatic system quickly re-establishes the connection when that happens.

WSF is the US' largest ferry service provider, running vessels on ten routes in the North-West US and British Columbia, Canada. It serves some 24.5m passengers each year.

Whether all ten routes will be equipped with Wi-Fi has yet to be decided, but the company has committed itself to rolling the service out on three more of them: Seattle-Bainbridge Island, Edmonds-Kingston and Seattle-Bremerton. The first two should be in place this summer, the latter in the autumn. In total, eight vessels will be equipped with access points, including the Klickitat.

Washington State Ferries' Wi-Fi ship

For now, the service is free of charge, but WSF plans to impose a "competitive" fee in the autumn, according to WSF technology director Jim Long, cited by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. ®

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