Amtrak Eyes Broadband Wi-Fi DC-Boston

Joe Boardman, Amtrak President and CEO

Joe Boardman, Amtrak President and CEO Michael Perez/AP

Rollout will require a whole mess of access points.

Amtrak would like to ditch the 10 Mpbs cellular-based Wi-Fi service that frustrates train passengers on its 457-mile Washington-Boston service with slow speeds for trackside access points to provide broadband speeds to support streaming and fat file downloads.  

Amtrak Chief Marketing and Sales Officer Matt Harrison said yesterday the wireless trackside network would provide passengers a true broadband experience, close existing coverage gaps along the corridor, and allow Amtrak to drop current restrictions on streaming media and large file downloads.

According to Harrison, Amtrak is soliciting bids for a proof-of-concept project on 10 miles of track in the Wilmington, Delaware, area. The goal is to increase available bandwidth per train from the current 10 Mbps to a minimum of 25 Mbps (and scalable to even faster speeds, as technology advances) to meet growing customer data usage demands.

Results of the test project – which I imagine can help determine the number of access wireless access points that have a nominal range of 300-500 feet needed per mile - will be used to determine whether it is technically and financially feasible to construct such a network along the entire 457-mile Northeast Corridor.

A couple of outfits already offer trackside Wi-Fi, including Cisco Systems, which signed a deal to provide the service to the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit, and Fluidmesh of Milan, Italy, which says it can provide 100 Mpbs service to trains traveling 220 mph – about double the average speed of the Amtrak Acela.

I’m intrigued by the plans to test the service in Deleware. This seems to indicate that Veep Joe Biden – No. 1 Amfan – may well be the key audience for the test.