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ScotRail Trains Test up to 300Mbps “Superfast” On-Board Wi-Fi Service

Monday, September 18th, 2017 (1:18 pm) - Score 983
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Scottish train operator ScotRail has partnered up with Cisco, CGI, Network Rail Telecoms and Wittos to conduct a Proof of Concept trial to enable “super-fastWiFi on trains (Project SWIFT), which could offer data speeds of up to 300Mbps (allegedly the “fastest in-train Wi-Fi service in the world“).

At present the operator already offers a free public WiFi hotspot service (wireless internet) at over 50 stations and on 18 different train routes across the ScotRail network, which stems from a roll-out that we first covered some 3-4 years ago (here). However a recent report from the Government’s National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) claimed that the use of existing 3G/4G mobile data networks for train connectivity has been unsuccessful, largely due to the number of tunnels, cuttings and signal black-spots in the UK.

The intention behind Project SWIFT, which is being funded by the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) and Innovate UK, is to provide a viable alternative that can offer “internet speeds on the go” of up to 300Mbps (Megabits per second). Currently, those travelling by train between Scotland’s two biggest cities can apparently only “access less than 10% of that capability” (note: c.30Mbps still sounds pretty good for a train but that capacity has to be shared between many users).

At present the new technology has only been implemented on a full-scale train at a test track in Stratford-upon-Avon, although it will now see a “limited duration roll-out” on one of the current fleet of ScotRail trains that operate services between Glasgow and Edinburgh.

The project will utilise existing trackside fibre optic cable to backhaul data from trackside masts. The masts will use unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum to connect trains to the fibre, with a lossless session handover between masts as low as 2ms (milliseconds). Both existing and newly installed masts will be used along the Edinburgh-Glasgow route to ensure that consistent coverage can be trialled along the line, regardless of tunnels and cuttings.

Rob Shorthouse, ScotRail Alliance Communications Director, said:

“We are delighted to be a part of this project. Our customers consistently tell us that one of the things that they expect on their journey is fast, reliable Wi-Fi. This pilot scheme, which we are undertaking on behalf of the entire rail industry, will allow us to fully understand how we take our current on-train WiFi to the next level. We are really excited to be involved.”

Scot Gardner, CEO of Cisco UK & Ireland, added:

“Project SWIFT embodies the art of the possible. If the UK is to truly benefit from what digital technologies have to offer, then connectivity has to be a given – even when travelling at 140mph.” He added “If only a fraction of the time that we spend travelling is made more productive, the potential for commuters, the train companies and the UK as a whole is immense.”

The proof of concept trial will commence later this year, and run until the end of March 2018. After that a decision will be made about whether or not to roll-out the service to more trains, not only in Scotland but also other parts of the United Kingdom.

Project SWIFT hopes to highlight how high-speed in-carriage connectivity will improve the experience for passengers and help train operators provide better, more reliable and profitable services. The project will also investigate what becomes possible when you add data and insight to connections.

As part of the above plan, start-ups and SMEs have also been invited to participate in an open innovation challenge that utilizes live data from the project. Participants will build applications to enable continuous innovation for passengers, and train operators. For more information on the challenge, visit https://www.1to1.link.

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Mark Jackson
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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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