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Eurostar brings Wi-Fi to termini

Today, London Waterloo; next year, Paris and Brussels

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Cross-channel rail operator Eurostar has rolled out wireless Internet access at its London Waterloo and Ashford stations.

Eurostar's station access points come courtesy of a deal with the company's Wi-Fi partner Broadreach Networks, which operates the ReadyToSurf wireless and fixed-line access brand. Users can now buy access time vouchers on site, or pay by credit card when they first attempt to log onto the system. Broadreach's roaming partners, including BT Openzone, Boingo and iPass, can also use the new hotspots via their own accounts.

The WLAN service is open to all passengers in each station's Eurostar departure lounge, the company said, but it is pitching the hotspots particularly at its business travellers. Such passengers have been increasingly turning to Eurostar's service as an alternative to more costly air travel to Paris and Brussels. Crucially, Eurostar's line terminates in the heart of each city, eliminating the time required to travel in from airports. The company currently claims a 66 per cent share of passenger numbers travelling from the UK to Paris, and 59 per cent on the Brussels route.

Station-based wireless services are a long way from on-board Wi-Fi access, of course, though it's clearly a move in that direction. Indeed, the company announced plans to test out customer-oriented WLAN services some time ago. In February 2004, it said it would offer passengers Wi-Fi by the end of the year, with the WLANs being installed on the back of a fleet-wide refurbishment programme - which has also seen the introduction of power sockets for notebooks and mobile phone chargers.

Today, Eurostar said it will now begin trials "next year" with two unnamed suppliers, one of whom may well be Broadreach. In turn, it partners with Canada's PointShot Wireless for rail-oriented WLAN hardware. Broadreach is currently working with Virgin Trains to roll out Wi-Fi services on the operator's inter-city routes.

In 2005, Eurostar will also bring hotspots to its Paris and Brussels terminals, the company said. ®

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