WiFi on longer routes

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Let’s not forget the long distance trains did have wifi, it wasn’t great but it worked more or less. Instead of improving it Anderson had it removed in his push to discontinue the network trains.
 
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Souvenir from the Coast Starlight five or six years ago. The reverse side of the card was "Hello My Name is"
Each SCA set up a "MiFi" hotspot (Verizon, I believe) in their sleeper with one additional in the PPC. As has been mentioned many times, it worked when there was cellular service. At the end of the trip, an announcement was made for the SCA's to turn in the devices. Haven't seen this again since then.
Thanks for posting that. On the Southwest Chief, on our trips at least, the password notice was on a Post-it note on the wall at the head of the stairway.
 

jis

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Let’s not forget the long distance trains did have wifi, it wasn’t great but it worked more or less. Instead of improving it Anderson had it removed in his push to discontinue the network trains.
The Eastern LD trains had and still have WiFi. The master router is in the Cafe with individual cars slaved off of that. There is a big antenna on the roof of the Cafe.

Of the Western trains the Starlight had a jerry-rigged setup WiFi. I could be mistaken about this but WiFi gear has never been permanently installed on the Superliners AFAIK. Occasionally it was available in the Sightseer or such provided by the train staff setting up a hot spot using someone's cell phone essentially. Nothing fancier than that. I don't believe Anderson had much to do with it other than removing the Pacific Parlor Car which is where WiFi was setup on the Starlight. At least that was the case whenever I traveled on the Starlight.

And of course it is all based on the availability of Cellular Service, which is not all that available along most of the western LD train routes. They are much more available along the Eastern LD routes.
 

Barb Stout

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You'll only have spotty Service along Major Highways and while in Biggerv Cities on the Western Trains.

Lots of the Small Towns in the West have no service from the Major Carriers, but Roaming on Local Networks is available in some.

As Tlcooper93 said, there's lots of areas in the West where there's No There There, since there's so few people!
Because the term "bigger cities" is defined differently from one person to the next, I will say that all of the stops on the SWC had cell phone coverage with Verizon and there was sometimes coverage between towns, but I would definitely not count on it. And if you're planning on streaming movies, don't bother trying. If you're planning on needing the Internet most of the time on the SWC, you're going to get really mad. Same is true when you're driving in the West (or rather a passenger).
 

zephyr17

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Amtrak wifi is generally not great where it is available (at least outside the NEC where I heard it has improved). My last experience with Amtrak wifi was on the Maple Leaf in 2019 and it was very poor. Very long page loads of simple web pages, lots of timeouts. I did much better with just cell service and tethering.

The western long distance trains do not have Amtrak provided wifi at all. Cell service is usually okay in cities and towns and where near Interstates. Out in the boonies, sketchy at best (I have T Mobile).

If you are have to be dependent on constant connectivity due to your work, best plan a long Amtrak during time off where you don't have to be available 24/7.
 

Northwestern

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As a seasoned citizen (meaning I'm old) I'm very much high tech illiterate. I was looking at this list regarding wi-fi availabilty:


I don't see either the Coast Starlight or Empire Builder listed, which are the two Amtrak's I take most often. Is that still the case? If so, why?

Is it possible to listen to a wi-fi radio aboard Amtrak? There are more, smaller wi-fi radios now on the market which are rechargable. It would be great to take one aboard for listening in your roomette or bedroom. Or, are the file downloads too great? I have used a standard AM/FM radio, in my sleeper,, while aboard both the CS and EB, but I've had to place the radio near the window. Station reception has been quite spotty. The best bet has been to listen to programs with national station affiliates, such as "Coast to Coast".

Again, pardon my hi tech ignorance.

Richard
 

jebr

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I don't see either the Coast Starlight or Empire Builder listed, which are the two Amtrak's I take most often. Is that still the case? If so, why?
That's correct. Most (all?) of the Superliner cars have not been equipped with permanent wi-fi hardware, so wi-fi is not available through Amtrak.

Is it possible to listen to a wi-fi radio aboard Amtrak? There are more, smaller wi-fi radios now on the market which are rechargable. It would be great to take one aboard for listening in your roomette or bedroom. Or, are the file downloads too great?
On the trains with wi-fi, audio streaming is generally doable, though you may get some buffering, particularly in more rural areas where the cell towers aren't as robust. However, if you're traveling on the Coast Starlight or Empire Builder, there will not be wi-fi, so that point is moot.

If you have a smartphone, you could use cellular data to stream radio stations that way. There's lots of apps that have different stations available. Unless there's a very particular reason why you'd want to use a wi-fi radio, I'd recommend using a smartphone to stream radio stations instead. Note that if you have a limited data plan, this will draw from your data allotment, and it can go through that allotment fairly quickly if you're listening for hours.

You could also look into podcasts of your favorite radio shows. They won't be in real-time, but many syndicated shows offer them, and they can be downloaded when wi-fi or strong cellular service is available and listened to at a later time (including when signal is not available.) This is my preferred way of listening to audio shows on the train - there's more variety and I'm not worried about losing cell service and getting buffering.
 

Northwestern

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"That's correct. Most (all?) of the Superliner cars have not been equipped with permanent wi-fi hardware, so wi-fi is not available through Amtrak."

Thanks for the info, Jebr. I noticed that other LD trains, such as the SWC and Zephyr are also not on the list. Well, maybe next time I will try to stream audio on my smartphone.
.
 
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As others have pointed out, there has been a lot of recent progress in bringing satellite connectivity to mainstream cellphones.

Previously, this required specialized devices with unique antennas, operating at different powers, on different frequencies, and would typically require line of site to the sky.

Absent a major technological development, currently extant cellular phones physically lack the hardware to connect to a satellite. There is no over the air update which could change that.

Apple has very recently announced that some high end editions of their latest iPhones will allow for *very limited* satellite connectivity - basically the ability to send text messages in emergency circumstances - they won't allow for phone calls or wifi hotspot data via satellite. Perhaps in a few years, but not yet. I have no doubt that a few android handset manufacturers will soon offer a similar service.

Amtrak trains which offer wifi derive their connection from the ordinary cellular network - so if your phone is out of coverage range, so too will the train's wifi system.

If you have an essential business need (or simply a desire and sufficiently deep wallet), you could look at a device like this:


(I have no affiliation with this site, though I do own one of these devices).

As long as it can "see the sky" (placing it by a window works) it will create a wifi hotspot and reach the outside world via satellite.

The speeds are modest - you can check email and do light web browsing, but it absolutely won't handle things like gaming, streaming video, or zoom calls.
 

zephyr17

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My experience is outside the NEC, wifi, where available, my experience being primarily on the Cascades and Empire Service, is awful. Slow and glitchy. Using my phone's data plan and tethering my tablet yields much better results.
 

Northwestern

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I tried to use my cell phone on my last trip on the Coast Starlight. The dead spots seemed to be Sacramento to Klamath Falls, and, especially Klamath Falls to Eugene. However, the Starlight does travel through populous areas from LA to Sacramento and Eugene to Seattle. It would seem wi-fi connectivity would be much better through those areas. Maybe Direct TV or Dish Network could put a few satellite dishes on top of the train. :)
 
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I tried to use my cell phone on my last trip on the Coast Starlight. The dead spots seemed to be Sacramento to Klamath Falls, and, especially Klamath Falls to Eugene. However, the Starlight does travel through populous areas from LA to Sacramento and Eugene to Seattle. It would seem wi-fi connectivity would be much better through those areas. Maybe Direct TV or Dish Network could put a few satellite dishes on top of the train. :)

I know you mean it mostly in humor, but DirecTV/Dish do actually offer a mobile solution for cars (not just campers or RVs). It's only for TV reception, though - they don't offer a version for two way data.

I had one installed on my roof rack years ago, before cellular data was fast enough to stream video. Looks like this:


Nearly flat/flush package to the roofline, along with a control module to keep the receiver continually in correct aim as the vehicle moved.
 

DonNewcomb

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Maybe Direct TV or Dish Network could put a few satellite dishes on top of the train. :)
I understand this was a tongue-in-cheek remark but it would be much more likely that StarLink would provide future Internet service for Amtrak.
Absent a major technological development, currently extant cellular phones physically lack the hardware to connect to a satellite. There is no over the air update which could change that.

Apple has very recently announced that some high end editions of their latest iPhones will allow for *very limited* satellite connectivity - basically the ability to send text messages in emergency circumstances - they won't allow for phone calls or wifi hotspot data via satellite. Perhaps in a few years, but not yet. I have no doubt that a few android handset manufacturers will soon offer a similar service.

What is happening is that StarLink's next generation of satellites is planned have a very large antenna that, over the US, will broadcast on T-Mobile's PCS G-block frequencies. While the satellites are being deployed, this will provide only text service because they will not have continuous coverage needed to provide voice and data. As the satellite flies overhead the phone will lock onto its signal and exchange any pending texts, then the signal will drop as the satellite moves past. When the constellation is fully deployed there will be continuous coverage allowing for talk and data connections. However, the size of a single cell will be something like 64 km in diameter. Every authorized user within that area will be contending for the capacity a single 5x5 MHz LTE signal. So, you can forget dreams of streaming YouTube videos on your iPhone in Glacier National Park. However, texting home or calling 911 from anywhere in the Lower 48 and the adjacent waters will be a reality.
 
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over the US, will broadcast on T-Mobile's PCS G-block frequencies. While the satellites are being deployed,....
Interesting, thanks for the additional techical details. I had read several "consumer grade" articles, but no technical journals on how they were doing it.

With the expected footprint of the moving/transient g-block footprint, how good to you think building and tree cover penetration is?

Also, do you know if any of the carriers have already establishd "roaming" agreements to allow their devices access to this service? Think it'll be included in their regularl plans, or you'll need to purchase an add-on?

Any journals you coud recommend so I can learn even more on this stuff?

The idea of a decently reliable, decently quick acquiring, satellite based personal communications device is something I've been lookng forward to for a loooong time.

Also, funny you mention Glacier. My very first sat phone experience, many years ago, was renting a Globalstar GSP-1600 for a trip to Glacier. Ironically, I rented it for another few week for a trip to urban Europe, cause seamless GSM roaming (without buying a local sim and multiband phone) wasn't a "thing" yet.
 

DonNewcomb

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With the expected footprint of the moving/transient g-block footprint, how good to you think building and tree cover penetration is?
Not very good indoors. Somewhat better under trees. This may be impetus for the return of external antenna jacks on cell phones.
Also, do you know if any of the carriers have already establishd "roaming" agreements to allow their devices access to this service? Think it'll be included in their regularl plans, or you'll need to purchase an add-on?
Satellite service is supposed to be included with T-Mobile's higher tier plans. T-Mobile has had difficulty getting reciprocal roaming agreements with AT&T and Verizon. This may be the leverage T-Mobile needs to get Big Red and Blue to treat them as an equal.
Any journals you coud recommend so I can learn even more on this stuff?
Most of this is based on discussion on Reddit
The idea of a decently reliable, decently quick acquiring, satellite based personal communications device is something I've been lookng forward to for a loooong time.

Also, funny you mention Glacier. My very first sat phone experience, many years ago, was renting a Globalstar GSP-1600 for a trip to Glacier. Ironically, I rented it for another few week for a trip to urban Europe, cause seamless GSM roaming (without buying a local sim and multiband phone) wasn't a "thing" yet.
My second choice was going to be North Cascades NP. At one time I had Iridium phone service. I dropped it when they raised the rates and multi-band GSM & 3G roaming became a thing. Also, my office installed VoIP phones on our ships, so I was able to make free calls home.

The PCS-G block is fairly unique because the way most wireless licenses are issued in the US creates a map that looks like a crazy quilt. This is terribly inefficient for satellite service. The G block, which T-Mobile obtained in the Sprint merger, is a single 5x5 MHz nationwide block. The only other vaguely comparable license is Verizon's 700 MHz band-13 license, which may be too low in frequency to be efficiently used by a satellite system.
 
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