Linea Roja

© Doppelmayr Seilbahnen GmbH

LANCOM

Future mobility: the cable cars of La Paz

The big cities of the world are drowning in traffic, and La Paz, the seat of government of Bolivia, is no exception. A good two million people live in the greater metropolitan area of the city, which lies at a breathtaking 3000 to 4100 meters above sea level in the heart of the Andes. Red brick houses crowd together in a valley and nestle side by side on the steep slopes. To the west, the gray of concrete mixes with the brick red. At an altitude of 4100 meters on the Altiplano plateau, the air is even thinner, and La Paz merges seamlessly with its sister city, El Alto.

Almost a million people live in the former workers' settlement. "The High Place", as El Alto translates in English, is mostly a dormitory city. Going to work or visiting authorities usually means a trip down to La Paz. In the past, this entailed a journey of up to two hours by road – either in a crowded minibus or by car, in bumper-to-bumper traffic. The local topography means that there are few wide main roads between La Paz and El Alto, and the extreme inclines make a subway technically impossible to build.

"Colors of La Paz" – commuting in colorful cabins

In La Paz, an aerial cable car network was floated as an alternative means of public transport, and since 2014 colorful cabins have been floating silently and emission-free over the sea of houses of the city. The red, green, light blue, dark blue, yellow, orange, purple, coffee brown, white and silver cabins all belong to Mi Teleférico, the world's highest urban cable car network – and at over 30 kilometers also the longest.

The ten current routes offered by Mi Teleférico comprise 26 stations and connect El Alto and La Paz as well as the northern and southern sections of La Paz itself. Getting between the two sister cities can now be done in a fraction of the time it takes by bus or car. Hovering 65 meters or more above the ground, one can relax and take in the mountain panorama. On clear days, snow-covered Mount Illimani, over 6400 meters high and close to La Paz, seems almost within arm's reach.

The colorful cabins of Mi Teleférico are a good fit for La Paz’s cityscape and culture.
The colorful cabins of Mi Teleférico are a good fit for La Paz’s cityscape and culture. © Doppelmayr Seilbahnen GmbH

Wi-Fi solution ensures safety and security

The aerial transport system is known as a monocable gondola lift, built by Austrian cable car specialists Doppelmayr. Each of the almost 1400 cabins can carry up to ten people. More than 300,000 passengers use the network every day, with double that on record days. To ensure they reach their destination safely, reliably and comfortably, the network is equipped with a state-of-the-art communications system. This system was developed and implemented by LOOP21, a partner of Rohde & Schwarz subsidiary LANCOM Systems. LANCOM supplied the Wi-Fi components required for the data traffic.

Together, Doppelmayr, LOOP21 and LANCOM Systems have completed many cable car projects in high-altitude regions of the world. For example, the Wi-Fi systems of both the Penkenbahn cable cars in the Ziller Valley, Austria, and the Hochkönig lifts in the Berchtesgaden Alps in Germany use Wi-Fi solutions from LANCOM Systems. "As part of a public transportation network, the Wi-Fi in an urban cable car must be capable of far more than that of a cable car in the Alps," explains Michael Müller, Vice President, Wi-Fi and Switches at LANCOM Systems. "The Wi-Fi infrastructure is used not only to provide an internet hotspot for passengers but also for a range of safety-related functions." These include intercom systems in the cabins for supplying information and making emergency calls, video surveillance along the route and monitoring of towers and sheave trains. All of this is only possible with continuously available Wi-Fi.

Cable car in La Paz operates with access points from LANCOM

At the heart of the Wi-Fi solution behind the La Paz cable car network are the Wi-Fi access points mounted on the towers and cabins. All data traffic between the control center and the communications system in the cabins runs through these access points. On top of the cable car towers, Wi-Fi access points specially developed for outdoor use have been mounted. In La Paz, these have to be extremely resilient: the Andean plateau is dusty, windy and cold. The LANCOM Systems hardware is practically predestined for the project, as it can withstand even the most adverse weather conditions. With their special protective housing, the outdoor access points from LANCOM Systems function dependably even in temperature extremes from –33 °C to +70 °C.

The access points are fitted with directional antennas that point the Wi-Fi signal specifically to the route section to be covered by the cabin. Access points are also installed on the cabin roofs, where they pick up the signal and transmit it to the Mobility Communications System (MCS) – the communications system developed by LOOP21 – inside the cabin. Announcement and intercom systems, security cameras, lighting controls and emergency call buttons are all connected via the MCS. Based on Wi-Fi components from LANCOM Systems, the MCS also provides a hotspot for passengers to access the internet. The access points are centrally controlled by a Wi-Fi controller in the stations and connected to the internet via optical fiber. Power for the MCS in each cabin comes from solar-rechargeable batteries.

From the Andes to Austria’s Giggijoch gondolas – LANCOM access points are used in cable cars around the world.
From the Andes to Austria’s Giggijoch gondolas – LANCOM access points are used in cable cars around the world. © LOOP21 Mobile Net GmbH

Extreme installation conditions

The complex Mi Teleférico cable car project in La Paz was special in a number of ways. The fact that city life continued to run with all the usual traffic was one of the more minor challenges. "Not even the container logistics from the harbor over the pass at an altitude of 4600 meters and on to La Paz was straightforward," recalls Torsten Bäuerlein, Project Manager at Doppelmayr Seilbahnen GmbH. "The exceptionally tight construction site organization and the cramped conditions in the city put great demands on us, such as blind crane lifts behind rows of houses. To ensure the safety of local people, specially developed drones were used instead of a helicopter during the preliminary cable flight for the first time."

The installation and adjustment of the outdoor access points was also a balancing act. The Mobility Communications System was preinstalled at LOOP21 in Austria, but the outdoor access points on the 186 towers of the network had to be installed on site. A fine touch was also needed with the adjustments. In urban areas, interference from other radio networks is common, and this had to be taken into account when aligning the antennas.

The installation and adjustment of the outdoor access points demanded precision work and a fine touch.
The installation and adjustment of the outdoor access points demanded precision work and a fine touch.

The cable car as part of city life

A special highlight for the project participants was being able to observe how the urban cable car network in La Paz changed people's lives for the better. La Paz and El Alto have moved even closer together thanks to the time-saving aerial connections. And although the cable car as a form of transport had been essentially unknown in Bolivia prior to the project, its popularity quickly skyrocketed. "What's innovative about this project is its intermodality," emphasizes Torsten Bäuerlein, Project Manager at Doppelmayr Seilbahnen GmbH. "The cable car network has become a part of city life, in harmony with the existing infrastructure. Thanks to its complete accessibility, both with boarding the cabins and throughout the station areas, the cable car can be used comfortably as a means of public transport by everyone: young or old, in a wheelchair or with a bicycle, and by families, business people and tourists with luggage." Another positive effect is that the cable car network is helping the city develop even further, with new offerings springing up around the stations. Last but not least, the improved mobility is opening up new opportunities for the people of La Paz, such as better jobs and training.

Further Links: LANCOM Outdoor Access Points

In La Paz, the cable car became a popular mode of transportation within a very short time.
In La Paz, the cable car became a popular mode of transportation within a very short time. © Doppelmayr Seilbahnen GmbH

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