With rail passengers seemingly glued to their smartphones and increasingly expecting to stay informed, connected and entertained while on the go, 3G and 4G mobile connectivity is no longer considered a luxury, but a right.
4G LTE is the right technology for building ground-to-train radio networks which deliver services like on-board Wi-Fi, CCTV, real-time passenger information and passenger connectivity in urban rail. But when the time comes to switch technologies, how can urban rail operators guarantee their rollout strategy meets their specific needs and passenger expectations?
Several business models are available each with their own advantages and disadvantages depending on a particular operator’s priorities and spectrum availability. Local or regional urban rail public transport authorities (PTA), mobile network operators (MNO), and regional public safety or government agencies will usually plan these networks, with their level of involvement determining the model of choice.
For example, under the Duplicated Model, the PTA grants MNOs the right to deploy their own radio access network on the operator’s premises. It is known as a duplicated network because each MNO deploys its own network. This approach minimises the PTA’s investments. However, it requires significantly more equipment and storage space, which is problematic in tunnels due to possible radio interference, while maintenance needs are also duplicated.
In the Shared or Hosting Model the PTA already owns or deploys active or passive DAS (Distributed Antenna System) networks and grants MNOs access, with radio base stations hosted in technical rooms at PTA sites. The model reduces investments in infrastructure, yet still requires duplication of base stations, which accounts for the bulk of the investment. The PTA is also unable to leverage these radio networks to support their own operational and mission-critical applications.
Many of the issues associated with duplication are eliminated by deploying the Exclusive Model. Here the PTA grants a single MNO the right to deploy its network and sign roaming agreements with other MNOs. This is a simple and comprehensive solution which can support operational communications and public services. However, it does tie the PTA to a single MNO, limiting opportunities to secure a better deal in the long-term.
With these limitations in mind, the Wholesaling Model is the preferred approach. Here the PTA effectively acts as an MNO by owning licensed spectrum and building its own LTE network, which it subsequently rents to MNOs, with each signing a roaming agreement and connecting their core network to this single radio network infrastructure. This significantly reduces the cost of deployment and space requirements, and improves the network’s performance. The PTA can also use the network for operational and mission critical applications such as signaling, emergency communications and onboard CCTV, reducing the overall cost of operations.
The major drawback of this model is the requirement to own spectrum, and investments in skills and staff as the PTA effectively becomes an MNO. However, by taking control, the PTA has the opportunity to maximise revenue opportunities and deliver the level of service that its passengers desire.
For more on 4G LTE and how it will benefit your communications network, download Nokia’s White Paper: “Delivering ultra-broadband connectivity in urban rail public transport.”
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