Limo company drives hotspots into passenger’s laptops

In an increasingly wired world, the car was one of the few remaining places a weary business traveler could escape the tether to their office. If a Vancouver technology company has its way though, that could soon change.

In Motion Technology Inc. has signed an agreement with Rosedale Livery

Ltd., a Toronto-based executive car service, to install wireless Internet access in the company’s limousines.

The service will allow Rosedale’s customers to connect to the ‘Net with a WiFi-enabled laptops or PDAs to catch up on e-mails during the drive to the airport or the next meeting.

In Motion president Kirk Moir says the service, dubbed OnBoard Hotspot, involves installing the onBoard Mobile Gateway and 3G cellular service into each vehicle, which is then monitored by In Motion’s network operations centre. The box is equipped with a CDMA 1X card running on the Telus Mobility network.

“”We see ourselves in the business of enabling business professionals to be productive even while in transit by making wireless hotspots truly mobile,”” says Moir. “”We’re trying to allow (car services) to offer high-performance Internet connectivity, which we see increasingly being a new selection criteria for their passengers.””

Moir says In Motion’s service is certified to Intel’s Centrino standard and requires no software to be installed by the user beyond Windows and a WiFi client. The car service also only needs to install the hardware; In Motion takes care of the monitoring.

“”All the company is really required to do is install the hardware in their vehicles, and we look after it from there,”” says Moir. “”In addition to providing hardware in the vehicle, we provide a complete managed service for them.””

As far as connection speed, in Canada Moir says Telus Mobility’s 1X RTT network, theoretically can reach up to 144K. However, the typical connection speed seems to be around 80 to 90k.

“”It’s equivalent to entry level DSL in the U.S. and Canada,”” says Moir.

Moir says the company is focusing on the car service market for a number of reasons: It’s a market where 70 to 80k service speed is acceptable, with usually just one or two passengers sharing the connection, and its focus in on a clientele that values its time and needs to be connected.

“”Car services are also a particularly competitive segment of the transportation space. They understand the power and necessity of market differentiation,”” says Moir.

With the company moving from short-haul airport trips into the road show business which involves longer rides, Rosedale Livery president Craig McCutcheon says Internet access from the vehicle has become an interesting perk to offer their customers.

“”We’ve found they’re constantly asking the question, ‘Hey, can I plug into your cell phone and get my e-mail?’ That kind of stuff,”” says McCutcheon. “”We’ve recognized that people are trying to get better Internet access between meetings, so it seemed like a nice fit.””

At the moment, McCutcheon says Rosedale and another car service company In Motion is working with in the U.S. seem to be pioneering the in-car hotspot concept, but he says he imagines it may well become commonplace.

For now, Rosedale just has the service installed in one car as a beta test and is evaluating customer reaction.

“”As the laptops start to have that card in them, it will probably become the norm, but I don’t know of other companies that are doing it right now,”” says McCutcheon. “”Customers think it’s really neat, the first question they ask usually is ‘I wonder if my computer can do that?'””

McCutcheon says one of the hurdles to a wider installation is the pricing. Rosedale and In Motion are currently negotiating with Telus on what the connectivity to the carrier’s network will cost.

“”I think they’re talking about a pretty significant dollar to have the connectivity,”” says McCutcheon, who added he’d like to absorb the cost as part of the regular fee for the ride and have the Internet access available standard to Rosedale’s customers.

“”Ultimately, if a passenger has a laptop ready to go it would be available to them, it would just be an added benefit of service,”” says McCutcheon.

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras is a technology journalist with IT World Canada and a member of the IT Business team. He began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada and the channel for Computer Dealer News. His writing has also appeared in the Vancouver Sun & the Ottawa Citizen.

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