The city of Houston is to trial WiFi on board some local trains as part of a wide-ranging partnership with tech giant Microsoft. Metro – as the local transit agency is known – said it hopes to gather feedback from passengers on the selected services with a view to expanding the system to its entire Metro Rail network.
The city’s Metro Rail system carries some 18.35 million riders a year on its 23 miles of track and the pilot scheme will be available on the East End and Southeast Lines. WiFi on board is also being trialled on two of the city’s bus routes. The test area is based around the University.
According to the Houston Chronicle, Microsoft is funding the US$110,220 cost of the pilot scheme, which covers the cost of installing more than 40 WiFi routers on board trains and buses. The launch comes about 10 months after Metro first announced the programme, and about eight months after the agency first estimated the pilot would become operational.
Microsoft, which signed a memorandum of understanding with the city in May 2018, has been an enthusiastic investor in Houston. According to Mayor Sylvester Turner, “Microsoft has chosen Houston as its first internet of things official space in the nation." The on-train WiFi project is seen by the city as another building block to grow Houston's tech scene and opens the door for similar arrangements between Microsoft and other cities in the US.
For its part, Microsoft said it plans to introduce its "thousands" of internet of things partners to Houston in order to bolster smart city initiatives. In Houston, it says, these initiatives could be aimed at making schools safer or using drones to monitor the impacts of weather after events such as Hurricane Harvey. Other initiatives could be to improve transportation around the city using the internet of things.
Metro Chairwoman Carrin Patman told the Chronicle, “Connecting our riders means we can make our services more visible and more accessible to them, and it’s also more efficient and sustainable.”
Meanwhile, Metro Chief Innovation Officer Kim Williams told a local web news service operated by the University of Houston, “Obviously resources are one of the issues we’re looking at and how we might address that. As part of this pilot, one of the things you’ll see is we’ll be collecting information from customers about digital communication and how they feel about that, because that could be a great way for us to continue to support this effort for the rest of our fleet.”
On-train WiFi services, trackside networks, the growing market for passenger WiFi and on-board entertainment will be the main subjects of BWCS’s WiFi on Trains Conference next June. For information on speaking and sponsorship opportunities at the 2020 event, please contact Ross.Parsons@BWCS.com .
The 2019 conference (www.Traincomms2019.com ) was sponsored by Icomera, Nomad Digital, Fluidmesh, RADWIN and BAI Communications.