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Metra Expanding Free Wi-Fi Service on Additional 50 Passenger Cars

Thu August 25 2016 6:52 pm
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Metra announced Wednesday it’s planning to add free cellular Wi-Fi hotspots to 50 more passenger cars. The 50 additional Wi-Fi-enabled passenger cars will be distributed throughout the Metra system and labeled with orange Wi-Fi decals on the exterior of the passenger cars.

To access the free Wi-Fi service, customers can select “Metra Wi-Fi Onboard” from the list of available Wi-Fi on their smartphones, tablets or notebook computers. Passengers must agree to Metra Wi-Fi terms and conditions to gain access to the service.

In general, the Wi-Fi hotspots are limited to a 1 megabyte per second download speed per user. The intended use of the Wi-Fi service includes checking e-mail and Internet browsing, but not streaming video. Metra will continue to post information on board to notify customers that streaming video will likely impair service and that dead zones may be encountered along the route.

Metra first tested out free Wi-Fi in 11 or 12 passenger cars starting in February 2016 and has since decided to continue and expand the Wi-Fi program after a majority of customers that completed an online survey said they were satisfied with the quality of the Wi-Fi connection during the test period, according to a news release from Metra.

The six-month test was meant to determine whether the hotspot technology could provide free and dependable Internet access to customers at an affordable cost to Metra.

“It’s clear from the test that this technology can meet the needs of a majority of our customers while still being affordable to Metra, so we are expanding our Wi-Fi program to 50 more cars,” said Metra Executive Director/CEO Don Orseno. “We’re happy to offer one more way to improve the customer experience onboard our trains.”

The Wi-Fi hotspot units cost about $2,000 each. Then the annual cost for the 62 passenger cars is estimated at $186,000 calculated from a monthly data charge of $250 per unit per month, according to the news release. Metra is seeking partners to help offset the costs of the Wi-Fi program.

In 2013, Metra investigated offering more extensive Wi-Fi service on all cars, but the estimated $72 million upfront cost was prohibitive. Metra could not find a business partner that could reliably provide that level of funding, according to the press release.

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