Three key considerations when designing seamless networks in metro systems

As indoor wireless network coverage becomes more abundant throughout the world, users expect anytime anywhere connectivity. This includes technically complex environments such as underground transit systems. Whether making a call while coming down an escalator, catching up on the news while waiting on the platform, streaming video onboard the train or during an emergency situation, users expect the network to meet their high mobile demands.

But providing these networks is another story. Metro systems are one of the harshest indoor environments around: in terms of design challenges, deployment challenges and ensuring the equipment stays protected throughout the network’s lifespan.

We asked our colleagues at iBwave to share some of their insight when it comes to mobile network design for such an environment, something they do as part of their day jobs. Here’s what they had to say…

At iBwave we recently delved a little deeper into the challenges of metro network design in a webinar. Let’s look at some of the pertinent points.

Space is limited
In a perfect world, a wireless network includes antennas in the best possible position to obtain optimal coverage and capacity for the area around it. In an underground transit system, designers have to take into consideration significant space constraints (one reason that the London Underground still doesn’t have a network is because of the extreme lack of free space in the tunnels). At the design stage this is critical – a realistic and achievable network design must reflect the lack of space in a challenging environment such as a metro system.

Past and present collide
Another challenge for many of the metro systems around the world is that they have historical significance and are considered historical sites. Wireless designs therefore have to be approved by the city’s heritage department, on top of the many other departmental approvals required, before you can even think about installing anything. Like in the case of the Istanbul Metro, for example, which is the second-oldest subterranean urban rail line, with the London Underground being the oldest. The newest of public safety wireless coverage systems needed to be deployed, while staying sensitive to the history of the environment.

Time is money
When deploying the networks, the work schedule becomes the biggest challenge. Systems need to be integrated either when the trains are not running or in the case of 24/7 metro systems, during the less busy times. This inevitably means in the dead of night. Besides making way for trains, integrators also need to be wary of the deadly “third rail” while working. System integrators often opt to install both public safety and cellular systems at the same time wherever possible, to limit exposure to these risks during installation – like in the case of the Stockholm Metro, for example.

And as if all this isn’t enough, after the deployment is complete, there are further challenges still. Extreme heat and cold, flooding, train brake dust and vandalism all need to be considered in order to protect the equipment.

So next time you’re checking emails while waiting for a train, you can think of all of the grit, guile, technology and hard work that went into getting you that signal.


Marie-Claire_iBwave Marie-Claire Charlton
Marketing & Communications Specialist, iBwave

Marie-Claire is a b2b marketing and communications professional with ten years of experience in writing, branding, campaign development, project management, thought leadership initiatives and social media strategy.


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