On a recent episode of Leverage, a character on the television show realized he was locked in a basement because his captor was not reaching for her cell phone every 90 seconds. With most of us reaching for our cellular phone almost that often he would not have stayed trapped for long. Indeed, mobile data access is no longer optional for most of us no matter where we are, and this includes when we are riding the railways as passengers and seeking constant, high-performance dynamic communications capabilities.
“The reliance is so strong that some rail passengers are left feeling frustrated that they are unable to access these services, particularly when travelling underground,” noted Jan van Ooteghem in a recent social view posting for Alcatel-Lucent’s (News - Alert) TrackTalk railway communications e-zine. “And even when they can, maintaining a consistent 3G signal onboard a train is often difficult.”
There have been varying approaches to the problem of network access on trains, most notably onboard Wi-Fi access along with facilitating 4G LTE. However, as regards onboard Wi-Fi is often tepid because many train commutes are short and only niche users such as business executives and mobile workers will pay for such services.
Using free access to a Wi-Fi service as a means to attract passengers to upgrade from standard to first class could be an effective way of increasing the adoption rate while increasing revenues, noted Ooteghem, but he also noted that rail operators should not expect a Wi-Fi service solely for passengers to become commercially viable and should look outside of this in order to generate capital.
A better solution might be equipping trains with backhauled 4G LTE as part of an integrated service.
“The ideal scenario would be to install an onboard LTE (News - Alert) antenna and turn the train into a mobile phone base station with its own coverage onboard,” noted Simon Bowyer in another TrackTalk article that looked at the challenge from an economic perspective. “Mobile phone networks tend to follow roads in rural areas so if you do pick up a signal on the train it’s more by luck than judgment,” he explained. In addition, rural settings and having the signals pass through the coach bodyshell are a problem, all of which is solved by having 4G LTE backhaul right on the rail network.
Acquiring spectrum to offer coverage on a train is an issue, however, noted Bowyer. Railway operators will either need to buy spectrum or procure spectrum rights from a commercial provider.
Partnering with commercial providers look to be the solution because operating without dedicated spectrum in no way compromises the integrity of well-designed safety-critical applications, he noted, primarily because the applications themselves have the encryption, authentication, and reconfiguration features to ensure high levels of network security in the application layer.
“The reason the railway needed its own version of GSM was because it had to have emergency prioritization for emergency functions. With LTE all that is built in,” noted Bowyer.
So when it comes to the future of railway communications, 4G LTE backhaul on railway lines very well might be the wave of the future for giving railroads a high-speed network they can use for improving their operations and giving passengers the speed and performance they would like for staying constantly in touch.
Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO Miami 2013, Jan 29- Feb. 1 in Miami, Florida. Stay in touch with everything happening at ITEXPO (News - Alert). Follow us on Twitter.
Edited by Peter Bernstein