IT consulting giant CGI is currently running live trials in the UK aimed at improving WiFi and mobile connectivity to trains. The pilot project uses a combination of low-earth orbit satellite and terrestrial cellular networks to overcome coverage gaps.
CGI is working with Eutelsat OneWeb, part of the Eutelsat Group and Icomera. Together, the partners hope to show how constellations of communication satellites can seamlessly fill in gaps in terrestrial coverage of Britain’s rail network and provide additional capacity in a cost-effective way.
The emergence of Low Earth Orbit satellite coverage is seen by many as a potential game-changer in the struggle to provide seamless, consistent connectivity along rambling rail networks. The problem being that passengers are often left frustrated if connections fail as their trains dive into cuttings, trundle across moorland, or even pass through congested urban areas.
CGI’s trial, which is now approaching completion and has reportedly gone “very well”, has been held on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, using equipment installed on a “rolling test-bed”. This includes Icomera’s multi-carrier gateway and its SureWAN aggregation algorithm. The latter wirelessly connects the test bed to the terrestrial and satellite networks. The hope is that this will show that a hybrid network can provide much great coverage to support varied passenger and operational uses, cost-effectively from one common infrastructure.
The European Space Agency (ESA) and UK Space Agency (UKSA) are supporting the trial, which is connected to the Satellites for Digitalisation of Railways (SODOR) project.
Jaime Reed, VP Consulting Services for Space Data Platforms and Applications at CGI in the UK and Australia said: “Integrating terrestrial and satellite networks can provide a cost-effective solution for always-on connectivity. Satellites can provide the missing coverage needed for large transport networks. At CGI we have been leading the way in making these complex integrated networks a reality and we are very much looking forward to working with our partners to further address these challenges so that we can bring these capabilities to market.”
A spokesman for Northern Rail said “The North Yorkshire Moors Railway is a good route to test this on, because of large sections where there is no mobile signal and tree cover close to the line, similar to many of our rural lines. We look forward to continuing to work with the SODOR team on the next steps, trialling the technology on the Northern network.’
The trial train will run a technical demonstration service between Pickering and Grosmont on the NYMR daily for up to 3 weeks.
Gareth Hartwell from CGI will be presenting the findings from the trial at this year’s WiFi on Trains Conference, Traincomms 2023, in London on the 14th and 15th of November.
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Traincomms 2023 is sponsored by Huber+Suhner, Westermo, Boldyn Networks, Nomad Digital, GlobalReach Technology and Icomera. Xentrans, Antonics and Polomarconi are exhibitors.