Editor’s note: This is part of VentureBeat’s series “Startup Spotlight.” Every week, we’ll sift through the scores of companies applying to be promoted and profile the best one. Companies can sign up here at the Entrepreneur Corner, which is currently sponsored by Microsoft. (Of course, we’re still interested in covering startup news and innovation in our day-to-day coverage.) Today, we continue the series with Wi-Fi Rail, below.
Wi-Fi Rail, a startup that provides high-speed internet for users on trains and other mass transit systems — even in tunnels and underground — now offers its users high-speed VPN access, voice-over-internet-protocol services and a bevy of consumer-facing applications.
Based in Gold River, Calif., the company got its start on the San Francisco Bay Area’s BART system. So far, the system has served 20,000 customers, who have signed in more than 85,000 times collectively. The quality of the connection is apparently so high that users can even watch streaming video as they ride. This can at least partially be attributed to the use of Cisco Systems networking equipment along certain high-traffic routes.
Right now, only four San Francisco BART stations and a few others are operational on Wi-Fi Rail, but the startup plans to roll out support for the rest of the stations this year and next. As it stands, BART’s deployment of Wi-Fi Rail is the largest high-bandwidth mobile local area network in the U.S. And the company has signed a 20-year deal to provide wireless service on the system’s trains.
In addition to providing continuous and high-speed wireless service on conveyances traveling over 80 miles an hour, the company’s other claim to fame is security. It says it is so safe that it’s even trusted with the Department of Homeland Security’s data. Its protection capabilities are proprietary, and the patents are pending, the company says.
Wi-Fi Rail’s business model is based on subscription fees. Users can sign up for daily ($10), monthly ($30) or annual ($300) subscriptions that come with technical support and customer service. Anyone can sign up directly online.
With more people focusing on green transportation options, consumer rail transit is becoming more popular than ever. At the same time, wireless access has almost become a given on buses and other road transports in major metropolitan areas — especially considering that 71 percent of daily travelers say they use a laptop or PDA on their way to work. It only makes sense, in this environment, to provide access for commuters who take trains to and from work every day — especially since that number is anticipated to grow in coming years. In time, users outside the Bay Area will also be able to conduct VoIP conference calls and watch streaming video during their trips.
Ealier this month, it was reported that New York senator Chuck Schumer is pushing the adoption of wireless internet on the Long Island Railroad and Metro-North trains. There has been some suggestion that Wi-Fi Rail could provide this service — but so far, that’s nothing more than rumor. The major obstacle for New York right now is cost, with most wireless systems costing upwards of $1,000 per train car, though Wi-Fi Rail may be able to offer it for cheaper.
The only major transit system rivaling BART in its provision of wireless internet is the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, which has all but finalized a roll out of access on 13 commuter lines. It doesn’t use Wi-Fi Rail — at least for now. But it will be interesting to see where the company takes off next.