Xentrans CEO: US 4G network not reliable enough for trains

By Stephanie Kinch, Wi-Fi NOW Staff Writer

American passengers are ready for on-train Wi-Fi.  American train operators are ready for on-train Wi-Fi. But is the network ready?

That’s one of the questions faced by Xentrans Inc., a consulting firm that specializes in in-vehicle wireless system design and deployment.

“One of the challenges for trains is that the promise of 4G never actually happened in America,” says Xentrans CEO Jim Baker. “We were promised very high speeds over 50 Mbps, which some countries do experience, but in North America, it isn’t happening.”

Usage soars, investments plummet

Mobile penetration rates in America have skyrocketed in recent years, with almost 80 percent of the adult population owning a smartphone. One could assume that increased usage would mean increased investment in infrastructure by mobile operators, but that isn’t the case. According to CTIA, Mobile operator investment dropped from USD$31.9 billion in 2015 to USD$26.4 billion in 2016.

The United States was ranked fourth in the 2017 Global Innovation Index rankings, coming in behind Switzerland, Sweden, and Netherlands. But tech innovation can only go so far if it doesn’t have the speed to back it up – and when it comes to speed, the United States is in the slow lane.

A study by Open Signal showed that the United States ranked 68th in 4G speed rates, with an average speed of only 13.95Mbps.

“America is like a third-world country when it comes to the quality and speed of 4G networks,” says Baker. “And you just can’t rely on spotty 4G coverage along a railway line.”

Connecting the tracks

Spotty coverage and slow speeds have forced US rail operators to look beyond relying on commercial cellular networks for connecting passengers and train operations to the Internet. For rail operator Amtrak, this required the construction of dedicated trackside networks.

Trackside base stations mostly tap into the…

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