A dark and snow-covered train staton late at night.

5G innovations can make for a better mass transit system

Controversial as it may be, many employers are requiring their teams to return to the office. And after all of the post-2020 modernizations transformed working, shopping, and socializing, it’s about time public transit accommodations caught up. Soon, transit systems will channel the power of 5G to create more optimized, comfortable, and accessible rides. 

The major players in American telecommunications are building out the framework for nationwide 5G while tech manufacturers are now offering products that are coaxing transit systems to get on board. 

Fight the gripe of your daily commute and look forward to how 5G implementation will improve each part of the commuter experience.

All aboard!

Ideally, public transit offers a more speedy and affordable way to get to where you need to be. Of course, this isn’t always the case – sometimes just determining which line to take is labor in and of itself. Once you’re aboard, there is a slew of issues that can arise, ranging from delays to overfilled train cars.

Digi’s 5G-equipped cellular routers can offer transit systems an array of powerful tools to improve efficiency, comfort, and economy.

MAC Address Capture

These routers can capture the MAC addresses of passengers’ phones to determine the number of passengers in the vehicle. Transit authorities can use this data to optimize scheduling, routes, and fleet size, which will ultimately conserve energy and provide a more pleasant experience for riders.

Boarding transit with a MAC address capture system would likely require new forms of consent from riders, and less tech-savvy ones may not understand the implications of this process. Theoretically, law enforcement or hackers could obtain this data to track someone’s typical routes or to find their whereabouts. 

Digi insists that this process functions strictly to capture anonymized data about how many passengers are moving at a certain speed.

When used anonymously, this is a simple way to get an estimate on ridership without more intrusive forms of surveillance – like cameras.

High-res security cameras

Many of America’s most expansive public transportation systems happen to coincide with existing in the most heavily surveilled cities. New York City is one of the most densely surveilled by square mile, while Atlanta and Chicago have some of the highest numbers of cameras per 1000 citizens.

The extent to which cameras are used and monitored depends on the neighborhood and mode of transportation, though many citizens accredit CCTV to a greater sense of security and comfort.

A subway train arrives. Multiple security cameras dot the ceiling.

5G routers have the high bandwidth to stream 4K footage from multiple cameras. This will enable transit authorities and law enforcement agencies to get a much clearer picture of what is happening in public areas.

High-resolution cameras could theoretically reduce friction in identifying suspects of crimes committed on public transit. Crisper images will undoubtedly bolster the effectiveness of facial recognition tools, like the software the NYPD uses.

A connected travel experience

Let’s be honest: most free, public WiFi sucks. 5G nodes, however, pack enough power to improve bandwidth for riders and transit authorities alike.

A better ride for students and workers

We’ve all been there – an urgent issue pops up on your way to work or school (be it a forgotten deadline or an unexpected message from your boss) and the moments in transit feel more crucial than ever.

The current state of most transit WiFi does not support collaborative video calls or the sharing of large video files.

5G bandwidth on the bus or train means:

  • FaceTime, Zoom, and Google Meet calls with no lag, even in a crowded car
  • Uploading a large file you were just working on while you’re on the go — eliminating wasted time waiting around at home for uploads to finish.
  • Enjoying low-ping multiplayer or cloud gaming during your commute
  • Not having to miss a moment of the big game because you were running late – stream live TV while you ride!
Rows of train-riders use laptops and mobile devices.

2020 solidified working from home as a legitimate way to “show up” to wherever you need to be. Establishing widespread high-speed internet access in the public transit system should enable workers to clock in on the way to the office and let students report to class remotely on their way to campus.

This could reduce the collective amount of leisure time commuters forfeit when they travel. If eight hours on the clock is a necessity, being available for 1-3 of them while commuting makes a huge difference. 

A 2019 study found that longer commute times are correlated with diminished satisfaction with leisure time. If transit can become more leisurely, efficient, and productive, there’s a chance that commuters who travel a long way will experience greater satisfaction.

5G innovations can make for a better mass transit system
Source: Springer

Coming to a city near you – 5G in action

Seoul, South Korea

5G innovations can make for a better mass transit system

The Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT) in South Korea is gearing up for an impressive upgrade to Seoul’s subway trains by using high-capacity 5G access points.

Seoul’s subway system is starting from a decent jump-off point; the network is already covered by LTE in the 3.5GHz band, but the speeds leave a lot to be desired. In 2020, the speed on a subway train was 71 Mbps, meaning if 100 passengers tried to connect to WiFi simultaneously, they’d each experience speeds slower than 1 Mbps. (For reference, Netflix recommends 5 Mbps speeds for HD streaming and 25 Mbps for Ultra HD quality.)

After a trial run was conducted on the Seongsu Branch of Seoul’s trains, it was found that 5G mmWave can boost speeds by up to 25 times. Now the MSIT is collaborating with Korea’s wireless operators to establish 5G mmWave connections across 5 subway lines.

Improvements by the numbers

  • Increased speeds will hit 700 Mbps at the lowest. That’s 7 Mbps speeds for 100 simultaneous users!
  • 90% of riders have smartphones, and the typical passenger spends an average of 35.9 minutes on the subway daily
  • If 2.5 million passengers spent 20 minutes a day on the new WiFi service, they’d collectively consume around 2.6 million gigabytes of data per day

Seattle, Washington

5G innovations can make for a better mass transit system

Seattle’s King County Metro was approaching end-of-life support for its network of buses. Auto Vehicle Location (AVL) data, which is meant to give commuters and operators precise knowledge of the buses’ whereabouts, was simply inconsistent and unreliable due to spotty network connections.

Cradlepoint’s case study reveals how their NetCloud Service equipped Seattle buses with routing, GPS, AVL integration, and centralized network management. 

Currently, this is running off the comprehensive LTE network that spans the Puget Sound area. The new improvements are equipping King County Metro’s IT personnel with cloud-based data analytics tools that manage bus routes. 

Once America’s 5G networks are more built-out, imagine the improvements in operator efficiency and rider experience that will come with upgrading to the next generation of wireless.

London, England

An Avanti West Coast traincar at London Euston Station.

In 2019, Virgin Train services in London confirmed the successful testing of new 5G-powered public WiFi. The early trial was conducted with the help of Vodafone’s 5G network. After having introduced 5G-equipped WiFi to the Manchester Airport in early 2019, the carrier was expanding to another mode of transportation.

Unfortunately, Virgin Trains shut down shortly after and Avanti West Coast took over their routes, stalling upgrade plans until about two years later.

Today, Avanti West Coast has partnered with BT to upgrade mobile and WiFi infrastructure on the West Coast Main Line. Unfortunately, this program in its current form is only focused on boosting 4G network coverage along the route, so 5G is currently out of the question.

Part of this investment by Avanti West Coast includes upgrades to the onboard WiFi system. The details of how fast speeds will be, and what tech is being used to accomplish these upgrades by the June 2023 schedule are unclear at this time.

My hope for these upgrades is that there will be a ripple effect on adjacent facets of city living. At this point, we’re an intrinsically connected society that uses the internet all day, every day, so we need accommodations to match our needs.

The trickle-down effect I envision may be a bit bullish, but I’ve gathered a list of potential positive outcomes regardless: 

  • Modern comforts on public transportation can destigmatize this mode of transportation and become a stronger alternative to the personal vehicle
  • Urging more commuters to choose public transportation will reduce vehicle traffic and road congestion which, in turn, reduces greenhouse gas emissions. 
  • High-speed internet access during the commute will shorten the time we spend in-office, freeing up hours more leisure time each day
  • As gentrification pushes longtime residents further and further away from the city centers where they may work, quality of life improvements can reduce the negative effects of increased commute time

On the flip side, could this increased connectivity make for a push to an even greater work-life imbalance? And will the correlation between smartphone usage and mental health problems be exacerbated as access to high-speed internet spans wider?

As always, let’s continue the discussion in the comments field or on social media.