WiFi at odds with industry in transport networks stand-offs


As all kinds of vehicles become wirelessly connected, there are mounting tensions between the WiFi community and the industry stakeholders, from carmakers to train operators. The heritage of high walls between vertical industries’ own private networks and open public wireless is feeding into conflicting views on future standards, now that the telco and transport sectors are coming together.

For instance, the US national rail operator Amtrak is asking the FCC for a waiver on certain conditions for the WiFi network it plans to build along its premium Northeast Corridor route. But WiFi players claim this might cause problems for other users, highlighting the stand-off between verticals’ need for connectivity that is optimized for their particular needs, and the requirement to provide good quality wireless for all consumers.

Amtrak wants the FCC to let it operate trackside network (TSN) as a fixed point-to-point system in the UNII-1 and UNII-3 bands, on its most heavily used route, which connects Washington DC to Boston via New York. About 750,000 passenger trips per day take place on this line, and the WiFi service is struggling.

The rail operator currently uses WiFi built around in-train access points which are supported by multiple concurrent 3G and 4G links, supplied by the four main MNOs, and aggregated by a single control unit in one ‘brain car’. This brain car has antennas on its roof which support backhaul to Amtrack’s East Coast data center. However, this system is complex and overloaded, and the rail company is also concerned that, if grandfathered unlimited data plans cease, it will either face high monthly fees or have to restrict usage.

Its solution is to build its own private TSN – a trend which is seen in many verticals, including rail transport, round the world. The UK’s rail infrastructure operator, Network Rail, for example, has said it would be keen to take advantage of 5G capabilities for its TSN, but lacks confidence that the MNOs will be able or willing to support all the required capabilities – such as ultra-reliability – on their public networks.

Network slicing may address some of these issues, if the business model can be worked out, but transport firms face the challenges of rising data usage right now.

Amtrak says that, if it adheres to current rules governing the UNII-1 band, it would have to deploy three times as many trackside access points as it currently does in UNII-3. However, the rules are different for a point-to-point fixed system. It argues that, although its TSN is not a fixed network, it works like a fixed P2P system because the location of its transmitters is always known, because trains cannot move beyond Amtrak’s right of way. “It’s not inappropriate to characterize Amtrak’s TSN as having characteristics typical of fixed operations,” says its filing to the FCC. Read More




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Caroline has been analyzing and reporting in the hi-tech industries since 1986 and has a huge wealth of experience of technology trends and how they impact on business models. She started her career as a journalist, specializing in enterprise and carrier networks and in silicon technologies. She spent much of her journalistic career at VNU Business Publishing, then Europe’s largest producer of technology publications and information services . She was publishing director for the launch of VNU’s pan-European online content services, and then European editorial director. She then made the move from publishing into technology market analysis and consulting, and in 2002 co-founded Rethink Technology Research with Peter White. Rethink specializes in trends and business models for wireless, converged and quad play operators round the world and the technologies that support them. Caroline’s role is to head up the wireless side of the business, leading the creation of research, newsletters and consulting services focused on mobile platforms and operator models. In this role, she has become a highly recognized authority on 4G systems such as LTE and WiMAX, and a prolific speaker at industry events. Consulting and research clients come from major mobile operators, the wireless supply chain and financial institutions.


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