All Aboard for Canadian Wi-Fi

By Michael Singer

July 10, 2003

Intel, Bell Canada and VIA Rail Canada offer wireless Internet access to trains for some passengers traveling between Montreal and Toronto.

Passengers traveling between Montreal and Toronto will now be able to check their e-mail and conduct other Internet access functions thanks to a new wireless network installed on some Canadian trains.

Intel Wednesday said it has teamed with Bell Canada and VIA Rail Canada to equip a handful of cars with wireless LANs. The four-month pilot service combines the technology, products and services of Bell Canada in conjunction with Intel and PointShot Wireless.

While it's a first for Canada, making the Internet available on trains got its North American debut on three popular U.S. Amtrak lines. That six-month campaign back in January 2002 outfitted riders with Compaq iPAQ Pocket PCs while Yahoo! provided the wireless connections.

The Canadian experiment is part of Bell Canada's AccessZone project and will let an Internet connection be transmitted to the train from Bell ExpressVu's Internet satellite service to onboard equipment and then to the end-user's notebook. Responses from the end-user's notebook are then transmitted back to the train's wireless networking equipment and then delivered over Bell Mobility's 1X wireless network to the Internet.

On the outset of the pilot, VIA Rail express train number 53 from Montreal to Toronto and number 66 from Toronto to Montreal will have a VIA 1 car equipped with WLAN capabilities. During the pilot Bell Canada intends to rollout more VIA 1 cars with WLAN access.

For its part, Intel is using its "Wireless Verification Program" via its Centrino mobile technology to test the system and make sure its compatible. Ottawa-based PointShot is providing the wireless technology within the train.

Supporters of the project point to a survey conducted by PointShot and Intel that showed 90 percent of respondents saw benefits in having the ability to access the Internet and e-mail while on a train.

"Our research indicates that Canadian business people want to use their travel time to catch-up on email, work on presentations and do other work-related tasks. They appreciate easy and convenient access to the Internet," said Intel Canada general manager Doug Cooper.

Intel has been on a tear of late getting new and unusual places set up with wireless. Earlier this year, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip making giant equipped a Boeing plane with a WLAN. The No. 1 chipmaker has also been instrumental in launching hotspots in McDonald's fast food restaurants.

Bell Canada is also aggressively pursuing the 802.11 brass ring with its AccessZone project. Launched in December 2002, the pilot has grown to include more than 20 enterprise locations including: Toronto's Union Station and Mount Sinai Hospital, Montreal's Dorval Airport, Kingston, Ontario's Confederation Park and Marina and Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounges.

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