Cellular Goes Underground, on Trains

Posted by Sam Churchill on

New York City subway stations are getting cellphone service when six stations go live on Tuesday. The signals will cover the platforms and mezzanines of the stations, but extend only a short distance into tunnels. Cellular data services and text messaging will work in addition to calls. Only AT&T and T-Mobile subscribers will be able to use the extended cellphone service in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. Sprint and Verizon phones won’t work there for now.

The New York stations where the service will be available are on 14th Street from 6th Avenue to 8th Avenue, and on 23rd Street and 8th Avenue. Cellphone service has been available in underground stations and tunnels in San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit system since 2006, and in Boston’s subway system since 2007

Transit Wireless, the company doing the wiring, will act as a neutral host and has another five years to set up service at the other 271 stations in the system.

The project kicked off in 2007, but very little happened the first three years, as Transit Wireless ran into financing trouble. Last year, new capital from Broadcast Australia, which owns TV and radio towers in Australia, helped fund the project.

Transit Wireless is expected to spend about $200 million on the project, and has promised the Metropolitan Transit Authority another $46 million in rent over 10 years. Transit Wireless will in turn charge wireless carriers for extending their signals underground.

BART’s cellular system is unique in that no other US railway has taken the underground wireless initiative in-house, says Urgent Communications.

BART hired Andrew Corp. to install a neutral-host Distributed Antenna System that runs BART’s cell network. Five of the Bay Area’s six wireless companies have signed up to use the system. It generates a combined total of $1.7 million per year from cell-site revenue, reports Urgent Communications.

Washington DC’s subway cellular service differs from BART’s because the operators created their own consortium, led by Verizon Wireless, to hammer out the agreements and manage the networks. Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, AT&T and T-Mobile are building, operating, maintaining and owning the new wireless network. Likewise, the Chicago Transit Authority recently allowed its fifth wireless service provider to lease its subway network via an operator consortium.

Cubic Transportation Systems is bringing automated fare collection for mass-transit in New York City. Automated fare collection — including near-field communications and advanced radio frequency identification cards is available in Brisbane, London and San Francisco. The company has than 175 active clients in 40 major markets in the world.— as well as the push to go mobile and the challenges of a building an infrastructure that’s made of rapidly changing parts.

Salt Lake City implemented the first mobile payment system in the US. Isis, a mobile commerce joint venture between AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless, will roll out the pilot program in Salt Lake City in 2012, offering an alternative to credit and debit cards for Utah Transportation Authority fare payments.

Google Wallet officially launched this week with payment partners Citi and MasterCard on board and three other credit card networks (Visa, Discover and American Express) waiting in the wings.

In other news, Amtrak may be ready to announce free WiFi on October 1st. It’s currently available for Acela trains in the NE and the NW Cascade line and now free Wi-Fi may soon begin on more than 450 Amfleet railcars.

Nomad Digital has been selected by Amtrak for the nationwide deployment of their AmtrakConnect Wi-Fi service.

Nomad’s Communications Control Units (routers) combine different cellular and satellite feeds. Remote Health Monitoring and operations as well as passenger entertainment is also integrated into the system.Its popular free Wi-Fi service (press releases), has been available on the Acela Express route, between Boston and Washington D.C., and on Amtrak Cascades trains in the Pacific Northwest.

The new services will be deployed using Nomad’s technology, which is capable of aggregating multiple wide-area networks including 3G cellular and 4G (e.g. LTE, WiMAX) technologies into a single train-to-shore link to maximize the available bandwidth. Amtrak currently aggregates mobile-broadband from AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile to provide service on the NE corridor through its contractor, Virginia Beach-based GBS Group, and its wireless vendor, Nomad Digital.

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Posted by Sam Churchill on Friday, September 23rd, 2011 at 7:34 am .

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