The best commuters can hope for is very fast internet only occasionally.
Amtrak has announced plans to test an upgrade of its notoriously inconsistent onboard Wi-Fi to faster 4G networks, but because the fix still uses Wi-Fi from a wireless company on a moving train, the best commuters can hope for is very fast Internet... very occasionally. For now, the updated Wi-Fi only runs on Acela routes from Washington, D.C. to New York to Boston. But even for those lab-rat commuters, a new kind of network doesn't solve Amtrak's biggest Wi-Fi problem: spottiness. As anyone who has upgraded from a 3G to 4G LTE cellphone knows, the network switch provides a huge boost in download and uploads speeds. But speed isn't Amtrak's issue, ultimately, so you can expect all that Twitter complaining to continue. Here's a look at what's still going to go wrong:
Cell Phone Towers Are Still Far Away
Currently, Amtrak gets its onboard Wi-Fi from Verizon and AT&T cell towers, which don't happen to sit along the train routes. Cellphone companies, of course, want to cater to dense areas of people — also known as their regular customers — and the way signals work, the further away the cell tower, the worse the reception. Although Amtrak will upgrade to faster, better cellphone technologies, changing to 4G doesn't make those cell towers get any closer to the tracks. Ericsson's CTO told The New York Times that Amtrak could make some investments that would eliminate the distance issue — installing wireless equipment along the Northeast Corridor, for instance — but that would cost a lot more money. And Amtrak has been operating at a loss for about 40 years.
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