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Ferries to roll out wireless service

But reliability and cost are still long-term questions.

Washington State Ferries will begin a test early next year of wireless technology, in hopes of offering Internet access to ferry passengers – both on the passenger deck and from within cars.

As of Wednesday, about 1,000 people had completed the WSF-sponsored online survey (http://demo.mobilisa.com/survey) on the configuration of the proposed service.

At issue are preferred access options – possibilities include connections for laptops, and kiosks for those without computers – and the feasibility of charging users a monthly or per-use fee.

“From early results, 85 to 95 percent of the people filling out the survey are interested in using the service,” said WSF Information Technology director Jim Long.

“But not such a high number has expressed willingness to pay to do so.”

Long said the first route to get the service will be the Port Townsend/Keystone run.

Once a steady connection has been developed, two boats on each of the main central sound runs – Kingston to Edmonds, Seattle to Bainbridge, and Seattle to Bremerton – will be installed.

During this ramp-up time, a period of several months, the service will be free. But it will also almost certainly be unreliable.

“We hope we can maintain continuous connectivity,” Long said. “Water creates a unique problem of adverse attenuation.”

Long said wireless service would be made available on the passenger and car decks, since many riders never leave their cars during the trip’s duration. Access may also be available in passenger holding areas, parking lots and on the outside deck.

The contractor for the test is wireless service provider Mobilisa, which is located in Port Townsend.

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