TRAVELLERS? TECHNOLOGY: Free WiFi comes to Heathrow coaches
British bus operator FirstGroup has introduced free WiFi Internet access on the coaches it operates between Heathrow Airport and the high-tech town of Reading.
The RailAir coaches serving the route have been equipped with mobile broadband gateways from Icomera of Sweden that can support Internet access at speeds in excess of 2Mbit/sec throughout the 50min journey. The gateway also provides GPS-based vehicle location, allowing FirstGroup to track its vehicles in real time.
“We carry a large volume of business travellers who appreciate the ability to get online during the trip to and from Heathrow Airport,” says FirstGroup local chief operating officer Chris Dexter. “Onboard WiFi draws more customers and differentiates our service from those of our competitors.
The RailAir deployment is part of a wider WiFi initiative by FirstGroup that will also see gateways installed on the Green Line service between Windsor and Victoria in Central London. The technology has already been deployed in South Wales on the commuter coach service between Cardiff and Swansea.
Usage of WiFi hotspots on public transport grew significantly this year, according to Icomera. The company says that in the 12 months to the end of October its systems worldwide supported over 3.7 million sessions by more than a million passengers, for a 272 per cent increase compared with the previous year.
The typical duration of coach services means that WiFi access makes more sense in that sector than it currently does on the Heathrow Express fast rail link with central London. WiFi is available at a price on these regular and comfortable trains, but the 15-20min journey time seems to have worked against wide take-up of the service. By the time a conventional laptop has booted up and the traveller has paid, little time is left to get any work done.
That could change to some degree with the advent of mobile Internet devices (MIDs), with their short boot-up times. But the overall mobile wireless market will begin to achieve its full potential only when the present patchwork of time-consuming payment systems has been replaced by a single, faster-reacting arrangement.