Putting the 'mobile' in Internet [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]
(Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) July 22--MADISON -- An entrepreneur from the University of Wisconsin is putting the mobile in mobile Internet.
While wireless networks enable devices like smartphones or tablet computers to connect to the Internet from just about anywhere, service is spotty or nonexistent in many cars, trains, planes, buses and other vehicles.
Suman Banerjee, an associate professor of computer sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has come up with a solution.
Banerjee created WiRover, a mobile Internet service for vehicles that allows passengers to surf the Internet quickly, stream video more efficiently and without interruption, and use complicated Internet applications.
WiRover maintains a strong Internet connection, Banerjee said, because it uses all networks -- AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and every other network provider.
"We allow our system to connect to many networks, as opposed to connecting to just a single network," he said. "Therefore we can have much better bandwidth performance. Sometimes what we have found is that network one is better than network two, so we can always pick the better of the two, or we can pick both."
Banerjee, who began the mobile Internet project in 2006, patented WiRover through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.
"We have our software-based system that basically figures out how the networks are performing at different locations. It knows where the bus is going, to some level, and so it can predict what networks it should be using," Banerjee said.
WiRover would complement the larger wireless services, said Banerjee, because it would take some of the strain off their networks and allow them to create and sell larger more complicated Internet applications, which he said would lead to greater profits.
Others, however, are not convinced.
Jay Bayne, executive director of the Milwaukee Institute, served as a judge for the Governor's Business Plan Contest, in which WiRover was the overall winner.
"WiRover wasn't my favorite," Bayne said. "WiRover is competing with every commercial communications carrier in the United States."
Bayne said he wasn't sure the WiRover model would be that much better than existing wireless service on trains and planes.
He doubts WiRover could have widespread commercial success, though it could serve emergency crews.
Its reliance on other networks would make for a "complicated billing problem," Bayne said.
Thilo Koslowski, vice president and automotive practice leader at Gartner Inc., an information technology research and advisory firm, likes the company's chances.
"I definitely believe there is an opportunity .?.?. for such a proposition for car companies," he said.
It's important for Internet providers to offer a range of options, and Internet for vehicles will become one of those, Koslowski said.
Partnering with various networks shouldn't be a problem if enough volume is purchased, he added, but it's hard to know what market share WiRover could command because the market is so new.
Banerjee has collaborated in an experiment with Van Galder Bus Co. The company, which has 115 buses at its Janesville location, has been using three WiRover devices.
Alan Fugate, operations manager at Van Galder, said the greatest application for WiRover might be cross-country travel. "I think that's what we don't know -- if it would be more for the locally scheduled runs or for the longer cross-country runs."
The experiment has cost the bus company little, Fugate said, adding that it takes about 20 minutes to install one of the WiRover devices.
"But more importantly, it allows us to offer Wi-Fi on some of our units without a lot of investment, and we can learn a lot about what works and what doesn't work," Fugate said.
As technology and communication devices continue to evolve, how long before customers demand Internet access on every vehicle?
"It's becoming a competitive factor," Fugate said. "Right now, it's a novelty that not all buses have. .?.?. But in the future, I think it will become more of a competitive necessity."
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