Indian train passengers to get mobile Internet access

RailTel Corporation of India Ltd. (RCIL) will offer broadband Internet connectivity to passengers on running trains by October this year, according to a statement Wednesday by India's Ministry of Railways in Delhi.

Delhi-based RCIL, a wholly owned subsidiary of the ministry, will deliver the service over the optical fiber cable (OFC) infrastructure it built for the railways.

The first commercial trial will be introduced on the Shatabdi Express that runs between Delhi and Bhopal in the north of India, according to the ministry. RCIL conducted successful technical trials on a running train between Tughlakabad and Faridabad stations in north India during April last year.

Using fiber as the backbone for communications between stations, RCIL uses a long-range variant of 802.11b wireless technology to communicate from the station to the running train, and a second 802.11b transmitter in the train to reach the passengers, according to Inderjit Sehrawat, deputy general manager at RCIL.

"We shoot radio signals to the passing train from the stations along the way," said Sehrawat. "In our trials we have found that we can get up to 2M bps (bits per second) Internet bandwidth on the running train."

The ministry did not say how many routes will have the broadband facility, and the time-frame for implementation.

RCIL set up its first cyber café at Delhi railway station last year, and has plans to introduce 300 more cyber cafes at stations across the country by the end of March.

The company was set up in 2000 to build fiber infrastructure for the railways that could also be used for other commercial applications. By February, RCIL had laid about 23,000 kilometers of fiber on railway routes. The plan is to have 40,000 kilometers of fiber by March 2007.

RCIL plans to use the spare bandwidth on its fiber network to provide Internet and telephony services to remote areas of the country covered by the railway system. It also plans to lease some of the excess capacity on its network to providers of telephony and Internet services.

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