Life has improved on the Bainbridge-Seattle ferry of late. Mobilisa, a Port Townsend-based technology company, is providing free Wi-Fi on the ferry until the end of April.
Life has improved on the Bainbridge-Seattle ferry of late. Mobilisa, a Port Townsend-based technology company, is providing free Wi-Fi on the ferry until the end of April, at which time it will sell the business to a traditional provider, which will, in turn, provide it to customers as a paid service.
It’s rare when the good old days occurred just a few weeks ago.
During this trial period, anyone with a wireless-enabled laptop on the main passenger deck or in the parking lots (the car decks are not wired) can just turn on a browser, do a quick sign-in and stay connected for the duration of the trip.
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That’s the theory. In truth, service in the parking lot is a bit dicey. On the main deck, supposedly the epicenter of the service, it can still be pretty slow. And speed decreases as more people sign on. Anyone logging on expecting the same powerful connection available at home — or even at Starbucks — will be disappointed.
We really have no right to complain because the service is free. Mobilisa is helpful and will work with you to make a proper connection. You can call them on a cellphone and troubleshoot the situation — that is, until you get to the middle of the Sound and the signal fades.
As for mail service, onboard messages are more reliably transmitted though a Web mail interface than a Pop3 connection.
Without accountability and a guarantee of clear operation, the service is little more than a convenient diversion. It’s cool to be able to check the news sites or do some shopping on Amazon.com or eBay. It is no big deal if you lose a connection in the middle of something like that.
But the real useful application, the ability to leave the office and take an earlier ferry and doing your e-mail on the boat, is still in the dream state. It is still subject to the first rule of technology in development:
If you really need it to work, it will not. To leave the office with timely unsent mail and the intention to send it from the boat is to tempt fate.
Once the trial period ends, the fun begins. That is to say, once someone takes over and actually starts charging for the service you can demand that it works when it is needed. So if you are in the middle of the Sound and service goes south, you may deserve a period of free service, or at very least a coffee certificate.
It’s a columnist’s job to emphasize what is wrong with a particular service and grudgingly stipulate to its advantages. It is a cool thing to walk onto the ferry, switch on and connect. It’s given the ferry ride a social boost, giving bored commuters something new to talk (or complain) about.
It’s also a columnist’s job to say, “It’s not enough!” when something new arrives. In this case, wireless belongs on the Southworth-Vashon-Fauntleroy line, along with Bremerton-Seattle.
The former is an easy task, while there are still some antenna problems on the latter. This run is the final link because it is the longest in duration and the ferries are the least attractive in the fleet.
If anyone deserves to be able to check their mail in the middle of the pond, it is the hapless Bremerton commuter.