Washington Commuter Ferries Get Wi-Fi Go Ahead

By Wi-Fi Planet Staff

August 20, 2003

Testing will begin in November in a move by that state's Department of Transportation to bring Wi-Fi to the 15,000 passengers at day on Puget Sound.

Computerworld is reporting this week that Washington State Ferries, which is run by the Washington State Department of Transportation and operates over 25 vessels hauling about 26 million passengers a year around Puget Sound, will be going wireless.

With 15,000 daily commuters using the ferries on rides lasting as long as an hour one way, a lot of downtime could be alleviated with use of Wi-Fi on the boats to provide Internet access. Not to mention access for crew and operations. Testing of what Scott Long, the IT manager for the ferry system, calls a "floating area network" or FAN will begin in November on handful of ships, two of which service Seattle (from Bremerton and Bainbridge Island).

The ferry service received federal funding for feasibility test in July. The test will be done with Mobilisa, a contractor located in Port Townsend, Wash. Passengers will be polled for input on the service. Following that, by next summer bids will be taken from system integrators for outfitting the ships with Wi-Fi and installing wireless ship-to-shore backhaul. Revenue will be shared by the installer running the network and the ferry service.

Washington isn't the first ferry with Wi-Fi though. Last week, the Harbor Bay Maritime service running between San Francisco and Alameda, Calif., on the east bay began to offer WLAN access to passengers. That services uses wireless backhaul back to Alameda using proprietary fixed wireless.

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