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Amtrak wifi improvements

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Devil's Advocate

Sarcastic Misanthrope
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So far as I am aware this is nothing more than a request for proposals. Supposedly the new system will have a top speed roughly twice as fast as the current system, which is a bit like saying twice as fast as useless.
 

afigg

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As a followup to this article that was published last week:
Here is the original thread on the posting of the RFP: Better Wi-Fi for the NEC. Perhaps the threads can be merged, although the first posting did not get much attention.

Amtrak issued a news release today on their plans for improving the NEC WiFi experience: Amtrak Aims To Build Trackside Wi-Fi Network with Broadband Speeds on the NEC. So they are not keeping a low profile on this effort.

WASHINGTON – Amtrak is exploring options to upgrade its on-board Wi-Fi service in the Northeast Corridor (NEC), with a particular interest in constructing a dedicated, wireless trackside network that provides a high-capacity, broadband-speed Internet connection between Washington and Boston.

A wireless trackside network would provide passengers a true broadband experience, close existing coverage gaps along the NEC, and allow Amtrak to drop current restrictions on streaming media and large file downloads.

“We know that our customers want a consistently reliable and fast on-board Wi-Fi experience – something we cannot guarantee today on our busiest trains when hundreds of customers want to go online at the same time – and we want to make that possible,” said Amtrak Chief Marketing and Sales Officer, Matt Hardison.

Amtrak is now soliciting bids for a proof-of-concept project. The goal is to increase available bandwidth per train from 10Mbps today to a minimum of 25 Mbps (and scalable to even faster speeds as technology advances) to meet growing customer data usage demands. Results of the test project will be used to determine whether it is technically and financially feasible to construct such a network along the entire 457-mile NEC.

This effort to explore a new wireless solution for the NEC represents Amtrak’s ongoing commitment to using technology to improve the passenger experience and increase satisfaction.
 

tonys96

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I would rather have a good meal, some amenities that make the trip "special" (think ice/juice/water/the bag of toiletries) and maybe a wine and cheese tasting on one or two premier routes than wifi. I am not, nor will I ever be, tethered to a computer. I actually have a real life in the real world, instead of the virtual world.

And if I MUST have email or other access my Ipad has wireless 4G capabilities. I can connect somewhere on every route.

Amtrak spending money for wifi outside of the NEC is a waste of money, IMHO.
 

jis

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Amtrak spending money for wifi outside of the NEC is a waste of money, IMHO.
I'd boraden the scope to corridors through populated areas. The sheer amount of money needed to provide reliable WiFi through the boonies is simply not cost effective IMHO.
Unfortunately, even the eastern LD trains travel through some real unserved boonies in places.
 

iggle_traveler

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I would rather have a good meal, some amenities that make the trip "special" (think ice/juice/water/the bag of toiletries) and maybe a wine and cheese tasting on one or two premier routes than wifi. I am not, nor will I ever be, tethered to a computer. I actually have a real life in the real world, instead of the virtual world.

And if I MUST have email or other access my Ipad has wireless 4G capabilities. I can connect somewhere on every route.

Amtrak spending money for wifi outside of the NEC is a waste of money, IMHO.
The bag of toiletries is nice but I always bring my own anyway. I agree about the water and ice, and I'd add coffee to that list.

I finally broke down and traded my wifi iPad Mini for one that has cellular also. For what it cost (even with the tradein) I could have taken a nice train trip somewhere, but whatever. Even when I was working I didn't know anyone who is tethered to a computer in their leisure (well, maybe folks who are addicted to blogs and discussion boards :huh: ) . But it is nice to be able to download podcasts and follow GPS and text the party who will meet me at the station as to how late the train is running and how the trip is going. I could've done all that with my iPhone too, if the size of the screen didn't make those activities somewhat irritating...

Oh, and for some who work in IT, the virtual world IS the real world, or part of it..
 
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afigg

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Meanwhile, no WiFi on the eastern "long distance" trains, which could sure use it.
For the record, the FY14 budget plan and the FY15 budget justification document has a "Wi-Fi Program Expansion" capital project which is to "This project builds on that success of Wi-Fi in the NEC by extending the installation of Wi-Fi networks to the remaining trains system-wide, beginning with the long-distance fleets."
So there are plans to deploy Wi-Fi to the LD trains, but it does not say by when. Easy project to delay or postpone if the capital funding is tight. If Amtrak does eventually add Wi-Fi to the LD trains, they will have to provide ample warning about to expect drop-outs and low bandwidth. Besides areas with no or very limited coverage, even with a strong signal to a passing cell tower, there could be data bandwidth issues in rural areas in handling 100 or 150 people all accessing the net from a single train passing through.
 

Shortline

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Wifi on long distance trains to me, seems like a waste of money, kind of like when airlines were all putting in-seat phones in. Those who need wi-fi connectivity already have it and won't use it, and of those who don't, I would think few would actually pay for it as a service, though maybe I'm wrong. If they spend a ton of money on it, I would think it would have to be a pay-to-play type thing like on airlines to recover at least some of the cost. Frankly, I think by the time they get around to it, spend the money to install it, so many people will already have personal hot spots that it will be irrelevant. Unless it goes to some sort of satalite system, I can't imagine it would be better than my personal connection, except I won't have dozens of other people slowing down my own. Have rarely used a public hot spot worth paying for, they seem to usually be bogged down and at dial up speed, more frustrating than usable. Occasionally I have to pay for in flight wi-fi for a specific task, and usually end up spending the whole flight trying to do a single, simple task. I think it makes sense on corridor trains, but for LD trains, I believe could be better spent.
 

Ryan

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Wifi on long distance trains to me, seems like a waste of money, kind of like when airlines were all putting in-seat phones in. Those who need wi-fi connectivity already have it and won't use it, and of those who don't, I would think few would actually pay for it as a service, though maybe I'm wrong.
I've been making that point here for years. Even if it's offered for free, you're unlikely to recoup the costs in increased revenue from providing it.
 

John Bobinyec

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Wifi on long distance trains to me, seems like a waste of money, kind of like when airlines were all putting in-seat phones in. Those who need wi-fi connectivity already have it and won't use it, and of those who don't, I would think few would actually pay for it as a service, though maybe I'm wrong.
I've been making that point here for years. Even if it's offered for free, you're unlikely to recoup the costs in increased revenue from providing it.
The trouble is, many, many people expect to have connectivity - EVERYWHERE. Most of the passengers that I see have their heads down - tappety tapping on their tiny screens, instead of looking out the window. For them, having connectivity on the trains is a welcome "gesture" showing that Amtrak is still part of the modern world. It's a good counterpoint to the charge that trains are so last-century.

On a local note, the NC Piedmonts are scheduled to get wifi this summer. I'm looking forward to that so that I can look at the maps and see where I am. :) Really, what I like to do is watch the ASM systems to keep them running smoothly. They tend to misbehave when I'm out of touch for a while.

jb

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CHamilton

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The trouble is, many, many people expect to have connectivity - EVERYWHERE. Most of the passengers that I see have their heads down - tappety tapping on their tiny screens, instead of looking out the window. For them, having connectivity on the trains is a welcome "gesture" showing that Amtrak is still part of the modern world. It's a good counterpoint to the charge that trains are so last-century.
I agree with John on this. I have suggested that Amtrak might want to partner with one of the providers that specialize in wifi for air travel. They have the knowhow to connect satellites to airplanes, so trains should be easy. I've also suggested that on the LD trains, wifi might be paid, with free wifi offered to sleeper and business class travelers, as well as AGR members. A couple of the people I've suggested this to think it's a terrible idea, so I'm going to duck now...
 

Ryan

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No, that's a perfectly valid and very compelling counterargument. It really comes down to the economics of the deal.

Since I'm still clinging to my "unlimited" data plan from AT&T that doesn't allow tethering, I'd make use of this with my laptop on the train.

I'd still spring for the iPad or iPad mini with the cellular capability, because you need that to get the GPS (but that's a beef with Apple).
 

jebr

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The trouble is, many, many people expect to have connectivity - EVERYWHERE. Most of the passengers that I see have their heads down - tappety tapping on their tiny screens, instead of looking out the window. For them, having connectivity on the trains is a welcome "gesture" showing that Amtrak is still part of the modern world. It's a good counterpoint to the charge that trains are so last-century.
I agree with John on this. I have suggested that Amtrak might want to partner with one of the providers that specialize in wifi for air travel. They have the knowhow to connect satellites to airplanes, so trains should be easy. I've also suggested that on the LD trains, wifi might be paid, with free wifi offered to sleeper and business class travelers, as well as AGR members. A couple of the people I've suggested this to think it's a terrible idea, so I'm going to duck now...
Should be easy and actually easy are two different questions. I'd imagine at least some of the simplicity in the airline wi-fi is that, for the vast majority of the time, there's no obstructions above it (other than the atmosphere.) Trains go through many wooded and covered areas that may be difficult for a satellite to use for high-speed data while moving at 79mph. (Some also use a cloud-to-ground system which actually works with specialized towers on the ground to connect the internet to the aircraft.)

I'm sure it'd be possible, but I'm not sold that it'll work much better than some sort of "all-cell-provider" backhaul (many of the areas with weak cell coverage likely also would not have a good view of the southern sky for the satellite) or more economical.
 

seat38a

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Other than the NEC, all the State trains were equipped with WiFi with state money from what I read. So unless the LD trains get some sort of "Sponsor" like the States or Row44, I don't think we will be seeing WIFI on the LD's anytime soon. Supposedly the the PPC has WiFi?

In January, couple hours out of El Paso, you loose all data coverage, but other than that we had data most of the trip on the Sunset.
 

neroden

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I really think the Chicago-NEC market values WiFi.

I don't know as much about the NEC-South market, but I would suspect it does too.

There are a few really empty spots, but frankly the expressways parallel most of these train routes closely (particularly the LSL), and the cell towers are strung along the expressways. Service is possible.
 

cpamtfan

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Whether hether or not it is spotty, Wi-Fi is a HUGE selling point. People want it, and they are only hurting themselves by not having it availible to expand.
 

jis

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If you see what happened on the NEC, it is not clear that it is a good idea to have WiFi that works occasionally and slowly. To a large extent Amtrak became a bit of a laughing stock among WiFi users. That is why they are taking the trouble to consider spending some real money to set up a system that actually works for the type of demand that is made on it.
 

tonys96

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Other than the NEC, all the State trains were equipped with WiFi with state money from what I read. So unless the LD trains get some sort of "Sponsor" like the States or Row44, I don't think we will be seeing WIFI on the LD's anytime soon. Supposedly the the PPC has WiFi?

In January, couple hours out of El Paso, you loose all data coverage, but other than that we had data most of the trip on the Sunset.
AFAIK, there is no wifi on the Heartland Flyer, a state supported train.
 

seat38a

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Other than the NEC, all the State trains were equipped with WiFi with state money from what I read. So unless the LD trains get some sort of "Sponsor" like the States or Row44, I don't think we will be seeing WIFI on the LD's anytime soon. Supposedly the the PPC has WiFi?

In January, couple hours out of El Paso, you loose all data coverage, but other than that we had data most of the trip on the Sunset.
AFAIK, there is no wifi on the Heartland Flyer, a state supported train.
Sounds like the State of Oklahoma and Texas needs to fork out some cash.
 

tonys96

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Other than the NEC, all the State trains were equipped with WiFi with state money from what I read. So unless the LD trains get some sort of "Sponsor" like the States or Row44, I don't think we will be seeing WIFI on the LD's anytime soon. Supposedly the the PPC has WiFi?

In January, couple hours out of El Paso, you loose all data coverage, but other than that we had data most of the trip on the Sunset.
AFAIK, there is no wifi on the Heartland Flyer, a state supported train.
Sounds like the State of Oklahoma and Texas needs to fork out some cash.
Or you need to have correct facts before stating things as fact.
 
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