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4G is better LTE than never on 430kph Maglev train

We took a trip on the world's fastest commercial train -- the Shanghai Maglev in China -- to take mobile broadband to ludicrous speed with a demo of LTE.

Flora Graham
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We have to kiss our mobile data connection goodbye as soon as we hop on a train to the south coast, but Huawei -- masters of the mobile broadband dongle -- have sorted out how to get LTE working on a Maglev train going 430kph through China.

LTE is one of the contenders to succeed 3G as the speediest mobile data game in town. It's been given a few trial runs in the UK, but it's still early days for this lightning-fast tech. So it's perfectly matched with another fast, furious and futuristic gadget -- the Maglev train in Shanghai.

It's tricky to get a mobile connection working when you're moving, hence our problems staying connected on snail-paced UK trains. The Doppler effect bothers the signal enough to cut quality or even drop the connection completely. At the same time, the hand-over between base stations must happen ever more quickly as you whizz along in order to stay connected.

Huawei has solved the problems for its trial with 12 base stations placed along 20km of rail. This flashy project is only a trial run, but it shows the problems aren't insurmountable.

The demonstration is hella cool, but LTE must still face up to the fact that it's not really 4G, and beat out WiMax as the next-generation technology of choice. The comparison with Maglev trains could prove prescient: Maglevs have proved to be expensive white elephants everywhere from Shanghai to Birmingham. UK mobile networks haven't seen the profits that they'd hoped to score from 3G, and it doesn't help that we've all gotten used to all you can eat 3G data without paying much for it. So the huge expense of upgrading their networks to 4G may not sound as tasty to them as it does to us.

But being practical isn't the Crave way -- surfing at insane broadband speeds on a train that goes 400kph most definitely is. So click through the photos to see the very definition of ludicrous speed.

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The Shanghai Maglev train can go 500kph, but it cruises along at a leisurely 430kph for normal trips. And if the sight of shrubbery whipping past at speeds not seen since we watched the 2009 London Shrubbery Marathon didn't convince us, there's a live speedometer in the cabin to prove it.
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The test used a dongle containing an SIM card, which looked like one we'd pick up at the nearest high-street shop, except for its super LTE powers. Despite those powers, the dongle still had to be held up to the window to work at its best -- just like Superman does.
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It's not exactly YouTube, but the red graph does show an almost constant connection and 40Mbps download speeds while the train is going full-tilt -- pretty impressive stuff, despite the lack of amusing panda videos.
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So what good will LTE do you? If it can keep you connected as well as it worked in the Maglev demo, prepare for some wireless real-time 3D gaming, yo. This is the same type of LTE base station, off the train, demoing that very goodness to ZDNet UK's handsome David Meyer.

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