Virgin leaps on board with Wi-Fi

Virgin will wire several of its railway stations with hot spots, and may soon add wireless Internet access to its trains
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

Virgin Trains is rolling out wireless networks at several of the railway stations it serves, and is also aiming to crack the holy grail of Wi-Fi access on a moving train.

The train operator announced last week that it is installing Wi-Fi hot spots at Birmingham International and Manchester Piccadilly. These will give high-speed Internet access to Virgin customers if they are on the station concourse, in one of the station's cafes, or in the first class lounge. Both sites should be live within a few weeks.

The rollout is being conducted in partnership with Broadreach Networks, following a trial at London's Euston station earlier this year. "We are very excited about launching the first seamless and secure Internet access service at railway stations and on trains," said Magnus McEwen-King, chief executive of Broadreach, in a statement.

"Rail passengers will shortly be able to connect to the service via a wireless-enabled laptop or PDA and enjoy high-speed email and Web access throughout their journey," McEwen-King added.

As ZDNet UK reported last month, there is considerable interest in creating Wi-Fi networks within moving trains, but also thorny technical obstacles such as creating a high-speed Internet connection on a moving train. It is understood that Broadreach will be making an announcement about its on-train Wi-Fi plans within weeks.

Railway stations are one of the pivotal battlegrounds for the UK's nascent Wi-Fi market, along with hotels, airports and coffee shops.

Swisscom Eurospot (which took over Megabeam earlier this year) and BT Openzone have both expressed firm interest in operating services at train stations as operators scrabble to win the loyalty of mobile business workers.

This has led to concerns that there could be interference between networks if too many operators install services at the same place.

A Broadreach spokesman played down these fears, though, telling ZDNet UK that Broadreach and Swisscom Eurospot each operate a hot spot at Paddington station, with no problems so far.

Broadreach operates a total of 50 Wi-Fi hot spots in the UK at the present time. Access at all of them -- including Euston, and Birmingham International and Manchester Piccadilly when launched -- is currently free, but charges are likely to be introduced in the future.

Discover the latest developments in Wi-Fi, 3G, GPRS and other cutting-edge wireless technologies at ZDNet UK's Wireless News Section.

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