by Al Sacco

Wi-Fi in Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Public Irritation?

Mar 27, 20083 mins
Data Center

Wi-Fi has already made its way onto airplanes and commuter rail trains, and soon the technology will be built directly into the radio units of some new cars. But I’m not so sure that’s a good thing. Can’t I just disconnect for a few minutes each day? Is that really too much to ask?


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Those short periods of peace during travel-time are precious to me, and I’m not ready to give them up just yet. And I hate to think of how much more dangerous the roads will be when all the driving fools who can’t stop playing with themselves for two seconds get in-vehicle Wi-Fi.

Sure, cellular data networks have been accessible from trains or automobiles for some time via smartphone or laptop aircard, wherever there’s network coverage. But that hasn’t really bothered me, as there’s only so much you can do with a Web-enabled phone—though I do loathe listening to other peoples’ cell phone exchanges—and I really haven’t been in a situation on public transportation where I’ve felt outnumbered by folks with aircard-equipped laptops.

The way I see it, being surrounded by so many people buried in their devices is contagious; my mind goes right back to work and then I’m firing up my BlackBerry or laptop too.

Already, U.S. airlines like JetBlue, Continental and Southwest are running or plan to launch in-flight Wi-Fi pilot programs.

image of a man riding public transporation and using a laptop
Wi-Fi and Public Transporation

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), which operates the state’s T line of subways, buses and commuter rails, gave Wi-Fi access to some 18,000 rail riders earlier this year, making it the only city to offer such service, an MBTA deputy chief of staff, told a Worcester, Mass., newspaper. Various train lines in Britain and Germany, among other European locales, are also testing in-train Wi-Fi.

And now Chrysler, the third largest U.S. automobile manufacture, plans to bring Wi-Fi to automobiles. “We want to make the radio itself a Wi-Fi port,” Chrysler Product Development Chief Frank Klegon told Bloomberg News. (Never heard the term “Wi-Fi port” but I get his point.)

And with more and more Wi-Fi phones and dual-mode cellular/voice over Wi-Fi (VoWi-Fi) devices hitting the market every week, we’ll soon not only be surrounded by laptops while in transit, but we’ll have to listen to the in-air phone conversations of every Tom, Dick and Jane with a Wi-Fi phone—as if cell conversations everywhere else weren’t bad enough.

In-car Wi-Fi? Driving-while-texting is already a problem. Next we’ll have to deal with driving-while-Web-surfing. The very prospect makes me quiver.

What do you think? Is Wi-Fi in planes, trains, automobiles and other forms of public transportation a good thing or just another form or public irritation?

Let me know by casting your vote below.