The UK government has today announced a £200,000 investment in research to help boost mobile connectivity for rail passengers. The Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, said that the money will help to develop an “innovative prototype” that will improve mobile connectivity for thousands of rail passengers.
The plan is to use overhead line equipment to help boost cellular coverage. According to the government this could put paid to so-called “not-spots” of coverage along the tracks and at the same time “boost productivity” on trains.
With over a third of the 11,000 miles of Great Britain’s railways electrified using overhead line equipment (OLE), research funded by the Department for Transport has found that it is possible to attach communications antennas to them, improving connectivity for passengers as well as reducing the need to build additional track-side masts, therefore cutting costs.
Published today, the report has found that there is significant potential to utilise these existing structures to mount equipment, a technique that is increasingly being used in countries such as Austria to address railway mobile connectivity challenges. Previously, it had been thought that safety issues and maintenance access would preclude substantial use of OLEs for connectivity purposes.
Telecom operators and suppliers are now being urged to come forward and develop suitable equipment for the next phase of the trial which will test how antennas can be safely fixed onto OLE in a live railway environment with findings expected to be published by March 2021.
As the Transport Secretary put it “It is just not good enough that passenger’s mobile connectivity experience is still poor, blighting our efforts to work, shop and communicate on everyday journeys.” (Something BWCS has been saying for years …)
Charlene Wallace, Network Rail’s director of passenger and customer experience, added “We are keen to work with government and train and telecom operators to deliver more consistent and reliable mobile coverage that improves passengers’ journeys. The report highlights how the railway can share its electrical infrastructure assets to deliver a better service, and we are delighted that funding has been made available to test solutions at our Rail Innovation and Development Centres.”
Today’s news comes as Ofcom is set to publish on Monday (27 July 2020) updated advice on suitable bands for trackside WiFi connectivity, supporting government efforts to improve connectivity on the railway (we will be reporting on them here).
It also coincides with further research commissioned by the department, published today by Transport Focus, which shows that rail passenger’s mobile connectivity experience is still poor. The Transport User Panel Survey found the level of satisfaction with connectivity on trains is generally low while the expectation of being connected is high.
The DfT will be among the many speakers addressing the issues of trackside networks, the growing market for passenger WiFi and on-board entertainment at this year’s 2020 BWCS TrainComms Conference.
The Conference is now taking 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 for an extremely low entrance fee (for the first 50 sign-ups), please see http://www.traincomms.com/book1.cfm or contact Ross.Parsons@BWCS.com .
The 2020 conference (www.Traincomms.com ) is sponsored by Icomera, Nomad Digital, Fluidmesh, RADWIN and Xentrans.