The recent launch of high-speed wireless Internet access on Thalys trains in Europe has raised hopes that a similar scheme could be initiated in the UK. However, CBR has been told that it is unlikely this service will be rolled-out in the UK in the near future.
A consortium of Thalys, Nokia Siemens Networks, 21Net and Telenet delivered the ThalysNet project. The system works by using a satellite connection to provide Internet access rather than the usual, but less reliable, mobile connection. UK-based 21Net provided the satellite communication system.
Philip Haines, 21Net spokesperson, told CBR that there are a number of factors holding back the consortium’s high-speed Internet access offering on the UK’s rail network.
The antenna mounted on the roof of the train currently stands at a height of 72cm, which will cause a problem on UK railways. Haines said: The UK has a lot of Victorian bridges throughout the network, and some only have 122mm of clearance between the train and the bridge, which is far too small for the currant antenna.
To counter this problem, the company is developing two new antennas. Already under certification is a Lower Profile Antenna, which will stand 45cm tall. 21Net is also developing a Phasor Antenna which will be just 3cm tall.
Haines said: We hope to have the 3cm antenna available during 2009. There are other options available on the market, but they are very expensive. Not only will this help the UK market, but we would be able to use them on French TGV trains as well.
Although this may improve the chances of the initiative launching here, there are other factors to consider. Haines says that the UK rail network is very fragmented and getting all necessary parties to reach an agreement can be tough. The UK market is one of the hardest because of the structure of the industry. The franchise system means that different companies can own the tracks, trains and various other aspects of operations. The problem is getting them all to agree, he said.
Haines says that there is a lot of interest in the system from UK train operators. We’ve spoken to lots of companies and everyone wants to do it, but it’s slow. It’s been a four-year process to get this far in terms of developing the technology, getting contracts and trialling the system.
National Express East Coast, formally GNER, offers a free Wi-Fi connection to all passengers on its services from London to Leeds, York, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Virgin Trains offer high-speed Internet access in its First Class lounges at London Euston, Birmingham New Street, Birmingham International, Coventry, Wolverhampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Runcorn and Manchester Piccadilly.