From your friends at Metro: Wi-Fi?

Of course people will like Metro Wi-Fi. Where we really want it is in the trains for the whole trip.

I saw a mobile phone for the first time during the Kennedy administration. Neighbors in Pittsburgh had the most magnificent automobile this child had ever seen — a 1960 Jaguar MX IX. Their gray Jag had an eye-popping accessory: a radio telephone mounted on the hump ahead of the front seat.

I guess mobile communications has finally caught on. Metrorail is testing Wi-Fi in four stations in the District

With its rolling shutdowns, thrill-ride quality when it’s running, and dated world-of-tomorrow styling, Metro had to throw something at its beleaguered. coffee-less passengers. Voila! A test of in-station Wi-Fi. But only in four District stations and only for 45 days. To see if people like it.

The Metro Wi-Fi effort reminds me of the old school teacher trick of rolling in a motion picture projector into the back of the classroom. The pupils go on heightened alert, eagerly anticipating a Walter Cronkite “You Are There!” film.

Of course people will like Metro Wi-Fi. Where we really want it is in the trains for the whole trip. How about tunnel cell service too?

This poses two challenges. For ubiquitous Wi-Fi, Metro would need both a street-level and an underground infrastructure. In the tunnels, this would require repeated access points, each needing AC power, all connected to a high-bandwidth backhaul. Above ground, Metro would have to install access points in the trains with cellular antenna networks between the outsides of trains and perhaps mounted on the catenary.

I’m simplifying. Connectivity on rolling stock that operates both above and underground is, even in 2016, a complex undertaking.

And an expensive one both in capital costs and maintenance of thousands of individual pieces of equipment in harsh environments. Should it be included in the fares? That’s a question for the politicians, but I’d favor user fees through the fare cards or maybe some joint billing arrangement with the carriers.

I’m betting the right phone calls to, say, the Army NETCOM or the Defense Information Systems Agency could produce some practical, real-world advice for Metro. Amtrak and some of the el-cheapo bus services running to New York sport on-board Wi-Fi. Last I tried them, they stunk.

As Metro struggles to repair its train system to 1970s service levels, it ought to accelerate the program of giving its weary but wonky passengers 21st century mobile communications.

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