Passengers on the Edinburgh-Glasgow train route will soon be able to experience “Super-fast” on-board WiFi. According to reports in The Scotsman newspaper, Cisco is spearheading a project that will boost wireless connection speeds by a factor of ten to 300Mbps. This step-up in speed is being enabled by adding new wireless masts and technology supplied by Fluidmesh along the route.
The so-called Project SWIFT trial is expected to start in October or November of this year and is slated to run until the end of March 2018. A spokesman for ScotRail told the Edinburgh-based daily “Our customers consistently tell us that one of the things that they expect on their journey is fast, reliable WiFi. 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.”
ScotRail is working with Cisco, CGI, Network Rail Telecoms, Fluidmesh and Wittos on an Innovate UK and Rail Safety and Standards Board funded proof-of-concept project. As part of the project, start-ups and small technology companies have been invited to submit ideas on how to improve services using live data generated by WiFi users.
Cisco said in a statement that around one third of requests for online access on trains currently fail, which, the networking giant claims, amounts to millions of lost hours of productivity, missed opportunity for online retailers, and potentially dissatisfied passengers. The Cisco statement went on, “consistent, high speed connectivity on trains provides a significant opportunity for not only the rail industry, but the UK as a whole.”
The heavily-used Edinburgh-Glasgow route is viewed as typical of the UK rail network in terms of current mobile coverage. Cellular networks provide good connections in the two main cities and within the confines of the towns that the rail route runs through. However, this becomes patchy, at best, as the trains plunge across moorland or into deep cuttings along the 79km line.
Cisco and its partners Fluidmesh have tested the technology on a trial track near Stratford-upon-Avon, and say they are now ready to trial it on a train between Glasgow and Edinburgh.
The project will use existing trackside fibre to backhaul data from trackside masts. The masts will access unlicensed WiFi spectrum to connect trains to this fibre, with a lossless session handover between masts as low as 2 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.
Cisco said the project goes beyond providing Internet access to passengers “and will investigate what becomes possible when you add data and insight to connections”
This could include providing passengers live information on seating capacity, real-time detection of incidents on trains, no dropped calls – even in tunnels – and the possibility of video-conferencing, and retail opportunities such as shop and collect at the journey’s end.
On-board WiFi, trackside networks, the growing market for passenger WiFi services and on-board entertainment formed the main subjects of the recent WiFi on Trains Conference hosted by BWCS (www.Traincomms2017.com ). For more information on 2018’s event please contact Ross.Parsons@BWCS.com
This year's Train Communications System Conference was sponsored by Icomera (Gold), Nomad Digital (Silver), Fluidmesh (Bronze), 21Net (Cocktails), LetsJoin (Lunch Day 1) and RADWIN (Lunch Day 2).