This assessment of the Wi-Fi on Gold Line, Chinatown & Little Tokyo / Arts District project was prepared on behalf of the

Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles (CRA/LA), for presentation to the CRA/LA and the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro). The project is being funded by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. It will be developed during 2009 through a Request For Proposals (RFP) from vendors and the subsequent deployment of the Wi-Fi network.

This preparation of this report and the

presentation of the results of the assessment here included to Metro are required by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority prior to issuing the contract for the project.

The project gives Metro the opportunity to offer free Wi-Fi Internet access on a trial basis to its passengers on the Gold Line. This will provide passengers with a highly valued add-on service that is expected to reduce the number of cars on the streets and to drive ridership-and ticket revenues-up and retain the increased levels of ridership achieved in the past few months due to the increase in gas prices.

Although experiments worldwide with for-fee WiFi access have had limited success due to passengers' unwillingness to pay for the service, free Internet access has been received very positively by passengers in all the cases we are familiar with. Not only do passengers value the service, they often cite it as a reason to shift to using the train for their commutes.

For example, the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) was been among the first in the US to launch a Wi-Fi network that is free to its passengers, and, without any marketing efforts, it has seen 1,500 of its 8,500 passengers use the service daily.

Our financial models for a train operator planning a similar Wi-Fi network in California show that with increase in ridership of 3-5%, additional ticket revenues can offset the costs of installing and operating the planned network and of hosting

safety and operational applications for the train operator. As Metro is not required to make the initial investment for the infrastructure, it can use the revenues to finance add-on safety and operational applications, and real-time traffic information services for passengers.

While this is beyond the scope of the project, Metro will also have the opportunity to use the network as a trial for internal real-time operations and safety applications that could enhance the service offered to its passengers, create a safer environment for its staff, and reduce costs. Realtime transit and traffic information is an additional valuable service that can be provided to

passengers and linked with advertising (e.q., in-car screens can combine information and advertisements).

The report explores the challenges, opportunities, and benefits that the Wi-Fi network along the Gold Line can bring to Metro and its passengers. It is based on our previous and ongoing work within the transportation industry and, more specificallv, on extensive interviews with Metro staff to gather preliminary information on the rail network and Metro's expectations and concerns about network deployment and operations.

The following sections provide some background information on the Gold Line and the proposed network, and discuss in more detail how a Wi-Fi network can be deployed in a way that minimizes the impact on the existing infrastructure and operations and maximizes the benefits to Metro and its passengers. The concluding recommendations summarize our preliminary assessment of the project.

The Gold Line has been operating since 2003 over a 13.7-mile line from Union Station to the Sierra Madre Villa Station in Pasadena that covers 13

stations. Its 24 trains serve on average of more than 24 thousand passengers on weekdays and a projected total of more than 6.5 million passengers for the current year.

An Eastside extension to the Gold Line is planned to become operational on June 26, 2009. It will extend the Metro Gold Line for six miles, from Union Station to Pomona and Atlantic, and add eight stations.

Railway wireless broadband networks are being deployed in a rapidly increasing number of transit systems. Countries such as the UK, Japan, Korea, and Germany were early adopters, and they are currently among the leaders. In the US, wireless broadband networks have been installed in Boston (using a cellular network) and in Salt Lake City (featuring WiMAX equipment to provide free access for commuters on the line). The proposed Wi-Fi network for the Gold Line provides the following:

• Free Internet access for passengers, within the train cars and at train stations.

• Coverage of the communities in Chinatown and Little Tokyo/Arts District (this portion of the project is not covered within the present report).

• Broadband connectivity to Metro staff on trains and at stations (optional).

• Real-time operational and safety applications developed and hosted by Metro (optional).

• Real-time information about public transit (e.g., connections with other Metro trains or buses) and traffic (e.g., at destination stations), along with location- and time-based advertising (e.g., restaurants at the next station during lunch hours) (optional).

Based on international and domestic commercial deployments' experience to date, we recommend a network that uses Wi-Fi and WiMAX technologies.

Gold Line Wi-Fi Project

Data connectivity is provided through Wi-Fi in cars and stations. Wi-Fi access is supported for all WiFi-certified devices, including phones and smartphones (e.g., iPhones, Android Gl phones, and some Blackberries, but also, increasingly, lowcost handsets), laptops, netbooks, Ultra Mobile PCs (UMPCs), tablets, etc.

Access can be mediated by a portal at which passengers may have to accept terms of use or may need to log in with their credentials, or can be activated automatically as the passenger's device (e.g., a laptop or phone) connects with the access point.

To support these services the following are needed:

In-car hardware, including a Wi-Fi access points in each car, and a server, a modem and an antenna on the roof of one car.

• Base stations along the Right-Of-Way (ROW) that transmit data traffic from and to the train. Spacing between base stations will be in the O.S-S-mile range, with 2-3 miles as the most likely range.

• By each base station, either (1) a second base station to provide a backhaul connection-i.e., to carry traffic to another base station or to the nearest fiber/broadband wireline connectionor (2) a link to the adjacent optic fiber or other type of wire line broadband connection.

There are multiple commercially available solutions that can provide this functionality, and multiple service providers that focus on this type of services (Figure 1; assuming optic fiber is used as backhaul).

In the deployment phase, the approach that train wireless broadband networks most commonly follow is to use Wi MAX-based technologies to backhaul traffic from/to the train to the base station. The traffic from the base station can be subsequently backhauled using a point-to-point wireless link-which may also be WiMAX-basedor a fiber, DSL or cable modem connections. In many cases, the traffic from tracks ide locations is carried by a combination of wireless point-to-

Gold Line Wi--Fi Project

Figure 7. Tracks/de wireless broadband network using WiMAX base stations in the 5.8GHz spectrum band

point links and wireline links using fiber, DSL or cable modem.

Each base station requires electric power and has to be installed as close as possible to the tracks to maximize network performance. Base station antennas need to be installed about 30 feet high; they can use the existing infrastructure along the tracks and in train stations, or they can be mounted on poles that can be installed during deployment along the ROW. Electricity can be supplied by solar power, but this tends to increase the capital expenditure (capex) and the overall size of the equipment to be installed.

Alternative network architectures include the use of satellite or cellular connections to relay traffic from train cars to the Internet. The operating cost of connections, along with the size of the transmitter and limited bandwidth, makes satellite a solution that may be viable only in rural areas.

Cellular connections for backhaul of traffic from the train obviate the need to build an additional trackside infrastructure. The antennas on the roof of the train would transmit directly to the nearest

cellular cell tower. But this solution suffers from several limitations:

The cost of the link to the cellular networks may be high.

The throughput is restricted, especially in the uplink.

• Even minimum throughput levels cannot be guaranteed; as a result, passengers may frequently find the network unavailable.

Cellular operators may not welcome this use of their network and could decide to discontinue the link at any time, unless they are brought into the project as partners or are willing to agree to a long-term agreement to support the service.

In situations where buildinq a network alonq the ROW proves to be difficult, expensive, or impossible, this solution represents an increasingly good compromise as the capacity of cellular networks grows, and cellular operators become more interested in the revenue stream coming from wholesale services.

Passengers are quick to grasp the value of free Internet access. Many passengers start using the network even before it is publicly announced. They discover it is available as they play with their phones and laptops on the train.

A Wi-Fi connection allows passengers to keep in touch with family, friends, and colleagues, increase their productivity, and often just have fun and better enjoy their daily ride to work.

Success of the service among passengers is tied to many factors, which include time spent on the train, availability of seating with sufficient space for devices like laptops, demographics, and competition from cellular services.

The time spent on the train is a key consideration. For long trips, passengers are more likely to sit down, open their laptops, and work for extended periods. For a commuter line like the Gold Line this is going to be an important, but not the dominant usage model, as most passengers spend less than half an hour on the train.

Instead, we envisage that the main targets for the Wi-Fi network are passengers who need to get quick access to specific information (e.g., email updates, social networking, location-based searches, traffic status when approaching destination, short video entertainment, the latest news). Increasingly, these activities have become much more common in a mobile environment because they no longer require a laptop-a smartphone like the iPhone is all passengers need. Handheld devices are typically used for short periods and are better suited for use while standing on a train than laptops are.

If passengers have srnartphones like the Blackberry or the iPhone, they are likely or required to have a data plan that gives them access to the cellular data network. So why would they use the free train networks? There are many reasons for passengers with a cellular data plan to switch to a Wi-Fi network:

Gold Line Wi-Fi Project

• Better overall performance, with substantially higher bandwidth speeds.

Higher uplink speed, valuable when transferring information from the device to the Internet.

• Better coverage, as the in-train network coverage is optimized for the specific train environment and the Wi-Fi antennas are located inside the train, closer to the user, improving not only coverage but also performance.

Fewer dropped connections, as the train network is designed to keep the connection active through its journey. Passengers should be able to keep their connection active even when the train is in a tunnel (they will have no Internet access, but their connection to the network is preserved and access resumes automatically when the train exits the tunnel).

• Avoidance of traffic-based fees or disconnection. Most so-called flat-fee cellular data plans come with traffic limits clearly

stated in the terms and conditions which each subscriber signs. Operators currently do not enforce such limits as their networks do not typically run at capacity. However, they may decide to enforce them as network traffic grows and creates congestion. This has already started to become an issue in some highdensity urban areas and it appears to be to a large extent due to high usage levels from iPhone users. With the increasing adoption of the iPhone and other phones with comparable functionality, it is reasonable to expect that congestion will soon become a major issue for operators.

Cellular operators are fully aware of the advantages that Wi-Fi can bring to their networks. AT&T, for instance, has aggressively pursued a deal with Starbucks to gain access to hotspots in coffee shops, and has recently acquired Wayport, the largest hotspot operator in the US. While the Wi-Fi footprint is not as extensive as its cellular one, AT&T hopes that Wi-Fi will relieve traffic congestion from the cellular networks.

Perhaps more important, however, is the fact that relatively few people have unlimited cellular data

plans, and they are probably underrepresented in a public transportation environment. As the availability ofWi-Fi in handsets becomes more pervasive due to the low cost of adding Wi-Fi to a handset ($2 to $5), we can expect many passengers to have a Wi-Fi mobile device but no flat-fee data plan. These subscribers may include pre-paid subscribers, or subscribers that want WiFi in their phone for the occasional Wi-Fi use at home, work, or in free hotspots. For these passengers, free Wi-Fi access can be an even more valuable resource.

The attractiveness of Wi-Fi access could become a liability. Coverage in stations may attract people to spend time at the station and use its resources just to browse the Internet. Similarly, people along the ROW may use the Wi-Fi network as a replacement for a home broadband connection. As there are many locations that offer free Wi-Fi access in a fixed environment (e.g., coffee shops, parks, stores, hotels), the risk of this happening seems low-and in fact it does not seem to deter these locations from offering free Wi-Fi. To prevent this issue, Metro may elect to limit the time one passenger can be logged in at one location or require passengers to create accounts that may be tied to train passes. As this requires additional effort from Metro, these tools may become worthwhile only if unfair access issues arise.

Attracting additional passengers with Wi-Fi access may also not be a welcome effect for the train operator if the trains run at capacity and no additional service can be introduced. In this case, one way to relieve the pressure is to limit or shut down Internet access during rush hour, even though this may invite negative reactions from passengers and goes against the main drivers of the project-i.e., convincing people to take the train and leave their car at home.

During our interviews, Metro staff expressed concern that passengers may access inappropriate content or play loud streamed content. These are clearly issues that already exist independently of Internet access (a printed pornographic magazine or a digital player can achieve the same results without connectivity) and they do not appear to create significant problems at the present. We do

Gold Line Wi-Fi Project

not expect this to change with the introduction of free Wi-Fi access.

However, the situation may complicated by the fact that Metro is providing the Internet connection to passengers. Metro may decide to filter content and/or ask passengers to create an account with strict terms of use to address issues of inappropriate use of content.

The selection of the spectrum bands to be used in the proposed network will depend on the solution that CRA/LA and Metro adopt during the RFP process. The most likely scenario is that only license-exempt bands in the 2.4GHz and 5.xGHz frequencies will be used.

We do not expect that these bands will create interference to Metro's current telecommunications infrastructure. As the 2.4GHz and 5.xGHz bands are currently widely used, interference issues would have already arisen. More fundamentally, all the telecommunication networks that Metro currently uses or plans to deploy and that include a Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) network for signaling, an analog voice network, and a system to alert ROW staff of arriving trains, are below 1 GHz, and therefore they are not overlapping with the 2.4GHz and 5.xGHz frequencies that are likely to be used.


Multiple solutions from different vendors can provide a robust and reliable network to CRlVLA and Metro. The technology has finally reached a mature stage that allows train operators to safely deploy the infrastructure both along the tracks and on trains. However, substantial differences exist among different solutions, not only in terms of

Figure 2. WiMAX trackside base station antennas

cost and performance, but also in the equipment needed, its size, its location, and its power requirements.

While all these topics will be central during the procurement, planning, and deployment stages, in this report we discuss some of the high-level items that CRA/LA and Metro should consider and discuss in detail during the preparation of the RFP.

The feedback from Metro indicates that the overall track and train environment is well suited for a WiFi network, and we have not identified any issue that would prevent the deployment of a highly effective Wi-Fi network. Metro control over the ROWand the presence of fiber along the tracks are substantial advantages. There are, however, many factors in deciding the safest, most cost-effective, and easiest way to proceed during the network planning and deployment.

Base station installation in the ROW

In a railway environment, base stations (Figure 2) are installed whenever possible onto the existing infrastructure (e.g., catenary poles, lampposts at stations) to keep costs down, to reduce the amount

Gold Line Wi-Fi Project

of new infrastructure (e.g., poles), to optimize performance, and to speed up the deployment. In many instances, the network leverages installations at train stations, where access to poles and lampposts is typically easier and power and optic fiber connectivity are more readily available.

The close distance between stations in the Gold Line should allow the network operator to locate most of the base stations within train stations.

CRA/LA and Metro should, however, expect that some of the base stations will have to be installed between stations, especially in track areas with sharp turns. The base stations require near Lineof-Sight (LoS) alignment with the train for optimal performance, so a sharp turn may require the installation of additional base stations.

If base stations cannot be installed over existing poles within the ROW, the network operator can install separate poles. Alternatively, the base station can be installed on buildings or poles contiguous to the ROW. This may be a desirable and cost-effective solution if power is more easily accessible there.

In considering whether base stations can be installed along the ROW's existing infrastructure, it has to be kept in mind that the base station requires a source of power and a second wireless backhaul antenna may need to be installed, as well. The power requirement can be satisfied by a solar panel, but that requires additional equipment to be installed. Where access to fiber or a wireline broadband connection is not available, a second antenna needs to be installed to backhaul traffic to a location with broadband or fiber access.


Tunnels limit the transmission of a wireless signal. There are two tunnels on the operating section of the Gold Line. One is very short and near Arroyo Seco. The other is in Pasadena between the Memorial Park Station and the Lake Station. The Gold Line extension will include a 1.S-mile tunnel underneath Boyle Heights.

Several approaches can be followed. Metro may prefer to exclude tunnels from the coverage area. In this case, passengers will still retain the connection while in the tunnel because the in-car Wi-Fi network will still active, but there would be no Internet connectivity. As soon as the train exits the tunnel, Internet connectivity would be reestablished.

Alternatively, a base station can be located at the entrance of the tunnel. According to Nomad Digital, one of the leading system integrators for railway Wi-Fi networks and the vendor selected by UTA in Salt Lake City, this solution can provide coverage for a two-mile tunnel.

A more expensive approach is to install in-tunnel equipment to provide more consistent coverage. Due to the limited length of the tunnels in the Gold Line, this solution is likely to be unnecessary.

Fiber and wireless backhaul

Each base station receives and transmits traffic from and to the train, and it then needs to forward the traffic to fiber or another broadband connection. Access to fiber along the ROW has the advantage of reducing costs and improving network performance and reliability.

Fiber is available along the ROW of the existing Gold Line and of the Gold Line expansion, and Metro has access to it. In addition, fiber access may be negotiated with the City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) from Union Station to Southwest Museum Station. It is still unclear at which location fiber is accessible to the Wi-Fi operator and further research is warranted while planning the location of the base stations. Where fiber is not available, a wireless backhaul link can be installed. It consists of two base stations, one by the tracks ide base station communicating with the train, the other at the location where a wireline broadband connection is available.

Because the Gold Line crosses a dense urban environment, access to broadband connectivity

Gold Line Wi-Fi Project

should not pose a significant obstacle, even if fiber is not accessible in all or part of the route.


Each base station requires power. According to feedback from Metro, a power connection has to be negotiated with the local utility company for base stations located outside train stations. In train stations, power is available. Alternatively, solar power can be used, but this may increase the installation costs.

Installation process along the ROW

The installation of equipment along the ROW on either existing or new infrastructure is a complex process. Permits may be needed, and the network operator has to work with unions and follow strict rules to ensure safety and continuity of the train operations. Network operators typically contract companies that specialize in this type of deployment and understand the requirements and procedures of train operators, local authorities,

and unions. CRA/LA and Metro should carefully consider the choice of the company responsible for the network deployment and ensure that the company has the appropriate experience.

Network ownership

The ownership of network assets is an issue that should be addressed by CRA/LA and Metro prior to the issuance of the RFP. While CRA/LA expects the network operator to retain ownership of the network, it is open to a network owned and operated by Metro, if Metro indicates that this is its preferred solution. The network ownership agreement is likely to have an impact on the installation and maintenance of the network within the ROW, and on the fiber and power access.

In-car installation

Each train will need an antenna and a modem to connect the train with the trackside infrastructure and an in-car Wi-Fi network, with Wi-Fi access points located in each car to propagate the signal within the cars. The antenna is mounted on the

roof of the train. As train sets lack Ethernet connectivity, each car has to be wirelessly linked to the others.

Train installation is typically done while the train is in the service yard during non-operating hours, or for maintenance. As for the tracks ide infrastructure, it is crucial, as mentioned above, that the company selected for the installation have the required experience in operating within a train environment.

Antennas, modems, and access points usually have minimal space requirements, but their locations should be carefully planned to ensure good performance and a cost-effective, easy-tomaintain setup.

Operating costs are covered for two years by the project funding. After this time, alternative sources of funding have to be identified. Operating costs are mostly due to the recurring cost for the backhaul and Internet access, and for network management and maintenance.

Assuming the project is successful in attracting new passengers, the additional ticket revenues collected from passengers who switch to a train commute because of the availability of Internet connectivity may well cover all the operating and maintenance costs. In other networks, we estimated that a ridership increase of 3-5% would be sufficient to cover both operating expenses (opex) and capex. But the figure is heavily dependent on the train operator's specific context. We recommend that eRA/LA and Metro explore this issue further to ensure the long-term viability of the project.

eRA/LA expects that the operation and maintenance will be done by a third-party operator. However, these functions can be

Gold Line Wi-Fi Project

performed by Metro, especially if Metro decides to host operational and safety applications. We recommend that eRA/LA and Metro discuss the most effective approach ahead of publishing the RFP.

Security concerns are always extremely important within a public transportation environment. Each time a new telecommunication network is installed, issues about the potential threat to security need to be addressed.

If properly deployed and operated, the Wi-Fi network on the Gold Line should not pose any additional security issues. Passengers already have Internet access through their phones or laptops from cellular operators, so broader availability of Internet access does not, in itself, create new security threats.

If used only for passenger access, the Wi-Fi network will be completely independent from any network operated and used by Metro. All traffic from the train cars will be directed to the Internet directly.

If Metro decides to use the network for operational and safety applications, a virtual network can be created that meets Metro's security requirements. Traffic from the public can still be routed directly to the Internet. Traffic generated by Metro applications will be transmitted to the Metro network operations center, or to a location Metro selects. Implementation of these applications may allow Metro to apply for additional homeland security funding from Federal or State sources.

The Wi-Fi network planned for the Gold Line focuses on free passenger access. We would urge Metro to use this opportunity to conduct trials of operational and safety applications that could improve the services Metro offers, increase safety, and reduce costs.

During our interviews with Metro, we discussed the possibility to install cameras within cars that send real-time information to the Metro network operations center. Metro staff we talked to found interesting the opportunity to further share this information with Los Angeles County Sheriff Department, and other community agencies such as the LAPD or the Fire Department. Currently most of the data available is not real-time (it is used to analyze data after an accident has taken place). Based on our conversations with Metro staff, we understand that Metro generates much of the needed information, but it lacks the infrastructure to use this information in real time to prevent or manage emergency situations.

Other applications that Metro may find relevant include:

• ROW cameras installed at grade crossings to provide train engineers in the cab real-time "look-ahead" information that can be used to prevent accidents.

• Handheld cameras and devices for train staff to transmit safety and maintenance information to the Metro network operations center, and from there to the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department or the service yard.

s Real-time mechanical diagnostics through sensors located within the train.

• Real-time ticket verification of onboard passengers.

Gold Line w-n Project

Metro collects a wide range of real-time information on its fleet, and it is trying to improve how passengers can access it. A Wi-Fi network will enable Metro to present real-time information to passengers through:

• A portal directly accessed from passengers devices. This can provide customized information based on specific search requests or subscriber profiles.

• Screens available on trains and at train stations that list projected arrival time, real-time connections, and traffic conditions at destination.

Such services may include advertising revenue opportunities for the device-based portal and for the in-car and in-station displays, and sponsorship options (e.g., an operator like AT&T or a phone manufacturer like Samsung may sponsor the network by providing funding for its operating costs).

The deployment of a Wi-Fi network in the Gold Line is a great opportunity for CRA/LA and Metro to provide a highly valued service to Metro passengers and the communities it covers and to encourage the use of public transportation as a compelling alternative to the car. This initiative will enable Metro and CRA/LA to explore new ways to reduce traffic congestion in downtown areas and, as a result, to cut carbon emissions. The funds obtained for the project give CRA/LA and Metro the opportunity to test the impact that free Wi-Fi access has over transport habits in a controlled environment.

The network will also enable Metro to trial realtime security and operational applications, and to test innovative ways to provide transit information to its passengers and to gain advertising revenues.

Funding from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority allows CRA/LA and Metro to carefully evaluate the benefits that the Wi-Fi

Gold Line Wi-Fi Project

network brings without a direct investment by either Metro or CRA/LA. If successful, Metro may consider expanding the trial to the rest of its rail network. A separate solution may be required to provide coverage in underground sections of the rail network. The benefits to both Metro passengers and staff will be greatly increased by having systemwide access.

The Massachusetts Bay Transport Authority (MBTA) has recently announced a systemwide Wi-Fi network in its Commuter Rail Lines to provide free Internet access to its passengers, using exclusively cellular connections for traffic backhaul. As a result no trackside infrastructure is needed, but the throughput is more limited than

in a trackside installation exclusively developed for train passengers and staff.

Welcome! to the IMFI Demo Project

A pilot was announced last year in the FraminghamWorcester line, which connects Framingham to downtown Boston, over a 4S-mile route, with 17 stations, and carries 18,000 passengers per day. lin January 2008, MBTA announced that it would provide Internet connectivity in at least one car in each of its 13 trains for a cost of $262,000. Parvus was selected as a vendor, and the solution was based on a cellular connection with Sprint's EV-DO's network.

In December 2008, MBTA announced a full rollout that at a cost of $1.4 million would provide Wi-Fi coverage in at least one car in each trainset in every Commuter Rail

line. It also picked a new vendor, Waav, which provides modems with multiple data cards working concurrently, and to a new cellular operator, AT&T.

AT&T has been very supportive of the project: "Beginning the work with the MBTA to be the first in the nation to bring Wi-Fi service on board a train is a great

Figure 3. MBTA splash page and ad for Wi-Fi network opportunity for AT&T. The expansion to the North side

of the T's commuter rail network moves us closer to providing thousands of transit customers across Southeastern Massachusetts with mobile internet access on their daily commute", said Steve Krom, AT&T's

Vice President and General Manager for the New England Market, when the new rollout was announced.

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