VIA Rail Canada is taking Wi-Fi mobile, kicking off a four-month test of high-speed Internet service on selected passenger trains in the Montreal-Toronto corridor in partnership with Bell Canada International Inc. and Intel Canada.
Guy Faulkner, product manager for corridor service at VIA Canada's national passenger train operator, said he views Wi-Fi access as a potential competitive advantage for the company. VIA plans to test the Wi-Fi service in first-class cars, which cater to business passengers. Montreal-based VIA already markets its first class as conducive to business traveler productivity, and Faulkner said he believes Wi-Fi is a good match with the railroad's marketing campaign.
VIA routinely surveys passengers, Faulkner said, and more and more have lately asked about onboard Internet service. VIA will offer the service for free during the test while it conducts an online survey of users to determine how much they would pay for it. After the test, VIA will evaluate usage and survey responses before deciding whether to seek vendors to provide the service.
Bell Canada, a division of BCE Inc. in Montreal, has equipped the VIA test trains with three separate wireless systems to support the passenger Internet service, according to Bryan Pilsworth, associate director of Bell's Wireless Accelerator Fund. Broadband service to the train is provided by high-speed data service beamed from Bell's ExpressVu satellite system, which offers Internet service as well as television. ExpressVu provides a data rate of 400Kbit/sec., but Pilsworth said Bell Canada has tweaked the downlink to the train to operate at higher speeds. He declined to provide details.