As travelers in the 21st century, we’ve come to expect more convenience out of our travel experiences, especially in regards to the conveniences provided by technology. Whether that means personal internet access via our smartphones, instant onboard entertainment options, such as TV or movies, or to up-to-date travel information – the demands on public transportation to provide these services continues to increase. These offerings are no longer luxuries, they’ve become necessities. When it comes to travel by trains, buses or coaches, all of these demands can now be met by the introduction of the high-speed wireless communication known as long-term evolution, or LTE.
Today, LTE connectivity has become the modern standard for wireless connections. LTE has vastly increased the performance of 3G networks and has done so by improving the way in which wireless information is transferred.
LTE uses two different types of air interfaces (radio links) – one for downlink (from router to device) and one for uplink (from device to router). This process requires a technology known as MIMO, or “Multiple Input, Multiple Output.” This practice uses two or more interfaces (e.g., antennas) to reduce latency and boost speeds within a given channel. By using different types of interfaces for the downlink and uplink, LTE facilitates wireless connection in the most optimal way. The result is a dramatic increase in bandwidth and overall connection speed.
While it may seem that the adoption of this wireless technology within the transportation industrywas born out of the needs of consumers, rail, bus and coach operators are implementing LTE networks to improve their own processes as well.
Here are the three main ways transportation operators are seeing benefits from ruggedized LTE:
1. Better resource management is available through wireless network capabilities, allowing operators to remotely check and manage the conditions on vehicles. Typically, energy usage is one of the major variable costs that the individual rail operator can influence. In order to avoid exceeding electricity supply budgets and incurring premium charges from the energy supplier, an operator can use a wireless system (connected via LTE) to forecast and manage energy usage. For example, if a freight train is known to be operating in a certain region, passenger trains on the network can be instructed to reduce their energy use until the freight train passes through the area. This ensures that the maximum power budget is not exceeded.
2. Centralized monitoring allows access to an entire network of vehicles. Previously, many transportation network devices and protocols were incompatible and the systems could not be interconnected to achieve a single integrated network. With today’s industrial Ethernet and wireless LTE connectivity, buses and coaches are now part of an integrated industrial Ethernet-based network. This enables remote diagnostic and control systems. These diagnostic systems can now report back to depots before buses or trains arrive, so that if maintenance is required, the parts and tools can be organized in advance.
3. Improved functionality is now available due to improved passenger seat reservation and ticketing processes which can be realized over LTE connectivity along with real-time travel information. Now that video feeds can be transmitted live to a centralized control room, the application of surveillance video is vastly improved. Passengers can feel more at ease, and vehicle operators now have the ability for an instant snapshot of cars and carriages, providing them with historical data on what times and dates vehicles are being most utilized.
This diagram shows a typical wireless network design for a train
using onboard wireless connectivity.
Key Considerations for LTE Use in Transportation Networks
In order to apply this technology to public passenger vehicles, an LTE device needs to be “ruggedized” – meaning that it needs to meet extra requirements above those of standard commercial LTE devices.
When applying this technology to your transportation network, here are some key considerations to understand:
- Harsh environmental conditions found on buses, coaches and trains need to be taken into consideration before and during the installation of LTE devices. These wireless products need to be durable enough to withstand temperature fluctuations between -40°C to +70°C, as well as potential exposure to the elements and constant vibration.
- Safety and security play a major role in enhancing the passenger and operator experience. As it is with the introduction of any wireless network, these new transportation networks must come with measures to protect against cyber-attacks and secure the vehicle’s entire network.
- Downtime and delays not only cost money, but they negatively impact customer satisfaction. As mentioned earlier, customers expect a certain level of convenience to be present in their travel experiences – and much like if their internet connection were down at home, they’ll want it back on, and fast. Redundancy measures can help dramatically improve the reliability and quality of wireless connections.
- Future compatibility is the consideration that will set successful industries and companies apart from the rest. As technology rapidly continues to improve, networks must be able to adapt in order to accommodate incoming trends in the transportation industry.
The future of innovation in the transportation industry seems inextricably tied to the future of wireless technology. And as long as customers continue to rely on the same technology to make their travels more convenient, they’ll be placing an increasing amount of pressure on the industry to adapt to their needs. But the transportation industry won’t be moving forward with just consumers in mind. LTE and ruggedized wireless connectivity technologies offer an even wider array of benefits to operators – and much like the way that we as consumers feel about our smartphones, future operators will surely wonder how they ever lived without the benefits of ruggedized LTE.
Are you interested in learning more about ruggedized LTE applications for railway systems? Be sure to read Belden’s free white paper, "Industrial Wireless Technology for Railway Systems."