New wi-fi and mobile plan for rail routes could lead to Gigabit trains

Anyone who travels on a particular train route regularly will know all about the not-spots for both mobile broadband and phone signal, which range from just being too far from a mast, travelling through a tunnel or just too many people on the train for a local mast to cope with the workload. The Government it appears has noticed the problem and is launching a plan that is described as future proofing connectivity for trains[1] and to pave the way for a 5G roll-out. Headline speeds of Gigabit (Gbps) being available for each train are something that the plan hopes could be delivered but when you consider commuter trains often have seating for 400 to 500 passengers and the crowded routes[2] may be carrying 150-300 extra passengers, a Gigabit does not look that massive.

The plan is following a similar path to the original BDUK projects of a pilot project to allow evidence gathering (additionally there is a call for evidence document running) and see how existing trackside infrastructure can be exploited. The pilot project is the Trans Pennine route between York and Manchester and will run in partnership with Network Rail and is part of the GBP31 billion National Productivity Investment Fund.

We are investing record levels and delivering the biggest rail improvement plan since Victorian times to improve services for passengers – providing faster, better and more comfortable trains with extra seats. Improved mobile connectivity will help passengers to keep up with work, connect with friends or even check the latest journey information online while on the move, as we continue to build and develop a railway fit for the twenty-first century.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling

The ambition is that we could see all the mainline routes with dramatically improved connectivity by 2025.

There are additional details in the release footnotes indicating that the project could be delivered using existing fibre available on some routes, new dedicated base stations linking to the train via a radio link and systems for distributing that between carriages forming the train, highlighting that this is more than just erecting a new 4G or 5G base station every couple of kilometres next to the track.


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