US train operator Amtrak announced it is expanding the availability of its cellular-based on-board Wi-Fi service, AmtrakConnect. At the same time as it rolls out coverage to 90% of its trains, the company said it will add ‘new wireless technology on board’ and that this will lead to ‘overall improvements in reliability and performance’.
The move comes as airlines, with relatively fast Wi-Fi, are putting increasing pressure on Amtrak to follow suit. A study of recent tweets from customers on-board trains along the East Coast, reveals a mixture of gratitude that Wi-Fi is available at all and angry complaints that the service can be patchy. Clearly Amtrak, which has been a pioneer of on-train passenger connectivity to the Internet and is keen to boost on-board speeds, believes it is now time to act.
"Expanding our Wi-Fi network to eastern long-distance trains provides customers with a much-anticipated and expected amenity," said Lenetta McCampbell, senior director of passenger experience at Amtrak. "Now, more than 28 million customers have access to free on-board Wi-Fi."
Under pressure to improve download speeds and connectivity levels, the partially state-owned company has been trialling a purpose-built trackside wireless broadband network. This, it argues, could deliver faster and more reliable wireless signals to the on-board hotspots, removing its reliance on sometimes patchy cellular coverage. Amtrak has been analysing the results of a prototype system along a 10-mile stretch of track south of Wilmington, Delaware.
The train company plans to press ahead with the new rail-side solution and could expand the area covered by around 110 additional miles by the end of 2017. It appears likely that it will eventually be rolled out between Washington DC, New York and Boston, though it is not clear how long this might take nor how much it will cost.
On long-haul national routes, where there is often no cell reception at all, Amtrak is considering satellite Wi-Fi. The advanced solution that it is currently embedding on board trains will, Amtrak says, allow it to incorporate higher-speed backhaul technologies. In addition, it will lay the foundation for future applications that will further enhance the customer experience including on-board entertainment and real-time journey information.
"Our next-generation on-board technology solution, in combination with our trackside network, will enable us to provide our customers with a better, faster and even more reliable Internet experience while also enabling Amtrak to remain competitive in the aggressive travel marketplace," McCampbell said.
Lenetta McCampbell will be one of the main presenters at this year’s Wi-Fi on Trains Conference hosted by BWCS. For more information please see www.Traincomms2016.com or contact Ross.Parsons@BWCS.com.
The Conference will examine the expanding market for on-board Wi-Fi and passenger entertainment services, as well as the problems of intermittent mobile coverage, proposed trackside solutions and other issues facing train companies.
The event is proving very popular and is nearing capacity so to make sure of your place please contact Ross.Parsons@BWCS.com if you have not already done so.