News from BWCS

“New” Spectrum to be Targeted at Better Track-to-Train Connections

Tue 28 Jul 2020

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom looks set to make the 39GHz spectrum band available as a way to provide consistent “track-to-train connectivity. According to reports, the regulator has updated its advice to the government adding the new band as a possible option to support on-board, ultrafast broadband capable WiFi access points or mobile (4G, 5G) small cells for commuters.

The Government in the UK has long been promising to make “uninterrupted” WiFi and 4G/5G mobile connections to trains a reality. In 2017, it pledged that broadband speeds of up to 1Gbps would be available on-board all UK mainline train routes by 2025. However, this has been largely ignored since then and in January of this year, the National Infrastructure Commission openly pondered whether this lofty goal would actually be achieved in the timeframe.

There are 22 “very low price” places left for BWCS WiFi on Trains Conference on the 27th and 28th of October – reserve here -

Ofcom had been tasked by the government to help identify suitable chunks of radio spectrum that could help in its ambition of improving track-to-train connectivity. The regulator’s new advice continues to recommend the potential use of the 26GHz (24.25-27.5 GHz) and 66-71GHz bands, but it has now reportedly added the 39GHz band as an option. 

According to the 2017 report, within seven years, crowded commuter trains in and out of major British cities will require up to 3.6Gbps of mobile data connectivity to keep passengers happy. The dossier stemmed from a request made by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) tasking the regulator with providing technical analysis of the likely future demand for wireless data along rail routes.

At the time, Ofcom went gone into great detail as to the likely level of data required per train as well as examining what radio spectrum might be needed to best meet demand. It aggregated demand from all passengers using their devices simultaneously on board different trains. In assessing the likely demand, the regulator assumed that passengers have access to free on-board WiFi or their own mobile data service.

On this basis, the report found that an 8-carriage UK commuter train carrying 800 souls needs 120Mbps in 2018 to offer decent connectivity. This, Ofcom argued, will increase to 2.4Gbps by 2025. Meanwhile, an “overcrowded” 1,200-capacity, 12-coach commuter train needed 180Mbps in 2018, rising to 3.6Gbps by 2025.

Ofcom’s Statement

“The best spectrum options to provide trackside to train connectivity supplying backhaul for Wi-Fi access points or mobile small cells on passenger trains are likely to be the 39 GHz band (39-40 GHz), and the 66-71 GHz band. These bands:

• can support large bandwidths (so could be used to support the amounts of data traffic we expect rail passengers will need by the mid-2020s and beyond); and

• are relatively lightly used (so it would be easier to find spectrum in these bands than in other bands for trackside to train connectivity without causing significant problems for existing users elsewhere).

In addition, relevant equipment to make use of these bands is already available, or is expected to become available soon.

In addition to the two bands mentioned above we continue to believe that the 26 GHz band (24.25-27.5 GHz) is also suitable. We are currently considering our future licensing approach for this band to facilitate its use for 5G. Part of this consideration will be how we might facilitate its use for trackside to train connectivity if there is demand for this.

The other bands discussed in our 2018 advice are much less suitable. This is because we don’t think they will be able to support the high data speeds that are likely to be needed to provide passengers with a good wireless connection by the mid-2020s.”

The end distribution would of course, still be made via the on-board WiFi system.


Since October 2017 the UK telecoms regulator has been collecting data related to mobile signal strengths along the length and breadth of Britain’s railways. To do this, it has employed a series of four of Network Rail’s so-called “yellow” engineering trains.


The Department for Transport will be one of the speakers at this year’s WiFi on Trains Conference on October 27th and 28th .

The 2020 BWCS TrainComms Conference, which will cover trackside networks, the growing market for passenger WiFi and on-board entertainment, will now take place on the 27th and 28th of October and will be at least partially online – for more information on how to participate in this event, and on the Special Offer for the First 50 Sign-Ups please see or contact .

The 2020 conference ( ) is sponsored by Icomera, Nomad Digital, Fluidmesh, RADWIN and Xentrans.


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