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Amtrak looks to boost its onboard Wi-Fi speeds

The train company is "exploring options" to boost its bandwidth from 10 Mbps to 25 Mbps, which would make it fast enough to stream videos and download big files.


An ongoing complaint of travelers on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor trains is that the Wi-Fi service is painfully slow. This can be a serious problem since thousands of people who take these trains are business commuters traveling between Washington, D.C., and Boston.

Amtrak announced Monday that its working to remedy the situation. The company said it is "exploring options" to build a trackside Wi-Fi network that will have the capacity for broadband speeds. This possible service would be fast enough to let Amtrak get rid of its present restrictions on streaming media and big file downloads.

Amtrak's Wi-Fi speeds are currently slow because delivering a reliable and high-capacity Wi-Fi network on a moving vehicle for hundreds or even dozens of people is a big challenge. Amtrak relies on a 3G wireless radio to transmit aggregated data but since there isn't enough capacity on the 3G network to send a lot of data from a lot of people, the Wi-Fi network tends to get jammed.

"We know that our customers want a consistently reliable and fast on-board Wi-Fi experience -- something we cannot guarantee today on our busiest trains when hundreds of customers want to go online at the same time -- and we want to make that possible," Amtrak chief marketing and sales officer Matt Hardison said in a statement (PDF).

Amtrak's goal is increase bandwidth on its trains to a minimum of 25 Mbps, which would be up from its current 10 Mbps. It is now looking to create a test project that will help it figure out whether it's technically and financially possible to build this new Wi-Fi network along the entire Northeast Corridor.