Passengers using laptops get cut from their Wi-Fi Internet connection every time their trains enter a tunnel or pass through a weak patch in the network, which is extremely annoying for most most business travelers.
But Nomad Digital, based in Newcastle, northeastern England, said on Friday it has designed a system that provides continuous Wi-Fi service along a rail route at speeds several times higher than currently available.
The company has piloted the service on 14 trains running the express route between Brighton, on England's south coast, and London. The service, provided through wireless carrier T-Mobile, will be free to passengers until the end of the year.
Nomad said it was in talks about the service with rail operators across Britain and the rest of Europe and North America.
"There are 100,000 trains in Europe. The market is just enormous," said Graeme Lowdon, one of Nomad's two founding partners.
Nomad also said it was in discussions with European subway operators about using the technology to transmit security camera footage from subway cars to monitoring staff in real time. Current CCTV cameras can only record images for later playback.
The technology could also be adapted to allow cell phone calls to be made underground, the company said.
Nomad's service uses base stations, which are physically wired into the network, strung alongside the railway tracks every few kilometers. Using WiMax wireless technology, these base stations can connect with a so-called "black box" onboard each train, which in turn connects with passengers' laptops using Wi-Fi technology found in most modern laptops.
The train, in effect, becomes a traveling version of the Wi-Fi hotspots increasingly found in coffee shops and other public places.
The technology, which has taken two years to develop, could help train operators woo more business customers onto the railways, Lowdon said.
Analyst Ian Fogg at international technology research firm Jupiter agreed that the service would likely appeal to Wi-Fi users.
"Basically what businessmen care about is: do they have a power supply so their laptop doesn't die, and have they got an Internet connection they can rely on?" he said.
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