Amtrak Building Broadband Wireless Network

Amtrak plans to upgrade its WiFI along the Northeast Corridor, according to Railway Age, and has issued a Request for Proposals to implement it.

Amtrak plans to build its wireless network, at first offering Internet speed as fast as 25 Mbps per car, improving to 100 Mbps by 2019, according to the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP). Amtrak plans to start the revamp in the Northeast Corridor, and will be accepting proposals from contractors up until July 28.

High demand, combined with spotty and slow coverage have generated criticism of Amtrak’s WiFi

Unlike most airlines, Amtrak said it would continue to provide free Wi-Fi service. The railroad said that Wi-Fi was available on trains that serve 75 percent of Amtrak passengers, and that it routinely supported 30 percent to 50 percent of passengers on a given train.

Airlines are addressing the WiFi capacity issue by using Ka band High Throughput satellites.

JetBlue is moving to ViaSat’s high-capacity Ka-band system. Branded Exede In The Air, nearly 400 aircraft on JetBlue and other U.S. carriers are expected to have it by the end of 2015. It can also operate on the ground.

The ViaSat Mantarray low-profile antenna works on ViaSat’s Ka-band satellite fleet of ViaSat 1, WildBlue 1 and ANik F2. The Echostar Ka band competition offers similar capabilities with satellite capacity well in excess of 100 Gbps, about 10 times that of previous Ku band satellites.

Amtrak, which already uses some satellite connectivity, is sharing existing cell towers to provide most of its capacity. Now, Amtrak says, it will build a dedicated wireless network just for its trains.

The new network will use base stations near the rail line, connected via fiber or microwave to the nearest Internet connection. With trains traveling up to 160 miles per hour, providing 25 Mbps per car would be a neat trick.

They’ll need frequencies to link to the rail cars. A 20 x 20 LTE channel might deliver 150-300 Mbps (peak). Category 6 LTE supports 300 Mbps. Unlicensed White Spaces or WiFi in the 5 GHz or 3.5 GHz range, won’t deliver the necessary range.

Here’s a suggestion: use FirstNet. Amtrak could be just the ticket for first responders. Passenger trains could provide ubiquitous service and share channels only periodically (while maintaining priority access). Only one city has activated a 700MHz LTE responder network (video).

Union Pacific is the largest of the four remaining transcontinental railways, with BNSF the second largest. Both have extensive fiber layed next to the track. Amtrak mostly leases railway from freight operators. There’s lots of metro fiber, of course.

Related Dailywireless stories include Nomad Digital for Amtrak Nationwide, WiFi on Trains Conference, Amtrak WiFi Going National, How to Create Transit Applications, Realtime Ferry Tracking, Dubai WiMAXes Metro Train

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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