A Sacramento company, WiFi Rail Inc., has finalized a 20-year agreement with BART to provide high-speed wifi service on the Bay Area Rapid Transit system.
WiFi Rail has been testing the service for the past year in four downtown San Francisco stations, where more than 15,000 customers registered to use it. The service has been free during the testing.
Now that testing is complete, WiFi Rail enters Phase 2 of its rollout, which will extend service through more of San Francisco and Oakland and through the TransBay Tube, said Michael Hernandez, WiFi Rail’s chief marketing officer. Hernandez said access will remain free during Phase 2, which the company expects to complete by midyear 2009.
He said that after Phase 2 is completed, customers will get a discounted rate – about half the eventual planned full charges – until the service is extended throughout the entire BART system, which is expected to happen by the end of 2010. That half-price rate would be around $3 for two hours’ use, $4.50 a day or $15 a month during that period.
Once the service covers the entire BART system, WiFi Rail plans to give customers 3-and-a-half minutes of free access for every 30 seconds that they watch an advertisement, Hernandez said. Or, they will be able to sign up for ad-free subscriptions at $6 for two hours’ use, $9 a day, $30 a month or $300 a year.
It is very expensive to develop the technology and install a network for internet access in an underground train system. WiFi Rail is picking up the construction and operating costs, and BART will eventually get a share of the revenue, based on how many people sign up to use the service.
A major advantage of wifi service is speed, which WiFi Rail tested at more than 15 Mbps even on moving trains. That’s generally faster than 3G phone connections, which are also being expanded in the BART system.
BART also has agreements with all five major cellular carriers -- Metro PCS, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon -- to provide cellular service in underground stations and trackways. Cellular and data service are currently available at Embarcadero, Montgomery, Powell, and Civic Center stations and on the trackways between those stations, and in station areas of 16th Street, 24th Street, Glen Park and Balboa Park stations. There are plans to extend the service on trackways between those stations and through the TransBay Tube into downtown Oakland in 2009.
For more information about the wifi service, go to www.wifirail.net