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4G Mobile Broadband Spectrum Auction Could Force UK Rail Coverage

Wednesday, Mar 7th, 2012 (11:15 am) - Score 1,212

A new report created by Mott MacDonald for Ofcom has suggested that the much delayed auction of 800MHz and 2.6GHz radio spectrum, which will be used to deploy the next generation of 3G and 4G superfast Mobile Broadband services (e.g. LTE), could boost mobile coverage of the national UK rail network by including an “obligation for rail corridor coverage” in future licenses.

The regulator states that “providing reliable mobile network coverage on trains is a challenge” and Mott MacDonald agrees that this particular proposal would be a “more controversial option” for Ofcom to take.

Extract from Mott MacDonald’s Report

The research has confirmed the view that the key technical challenges are to enhance mobile network coverage to the rail corridor where it passes through underserved areas and to overcome the differing degrees of signal attenuation through train carriages. However, it should not be overlooked that key commercial challenges will also affect the ability to implement technical solutions.

The first part of the technical solution to rail not-spots is ideally filling in mobile network coverage adjacent to rail tracks. This is certainly possible but requires more active cooperation between Network Rail and the major MNOs where little or no financial incentive for the MNOs exists at the moment.

The second part of the technical solution is installing active equipment on trains such as voice repeaters or gateways for mobile signal. This is the only technical solution to overcome serious attenuation of signal where it exists. But there is currently little incentive for TOCs/ROSCOs to pursue this or to hold initial discussions with MNOs to explore how it might be achieved for voice traffic.

As more modern trains are progressively introduced, the attenuation problem will increase. Specifying repeater technology (or at least the ‘space’, passive equipment and onboard distributed wideband antenna system to support it) at train design would have negligible cost implications, but the effect of this would not be seen for at least 5 years – new fleets are ordered rarely.

The report also recommends further research and greater engagement between Ofcom and the government’s Department for Transport (DfT) and Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to help “align public development agendas related to not-spots, broadband in rural areas and rail operational communications.” The auction is due to take place in Q4-2012.

Mott MacDonald’s Rail ‘Not-spots’ Report (PDF)

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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