News from BWCS

Japan Leads the Way in More 5G On-Train Trials

Wed 10 Feb 2021

Japanese mobile giant NTT Docomo reports that it has been successfully trialing 5G connections on board JR East's high-speed Shinkansen trains. The tests, which were carried out on the ALFA-X1 Shinkansen test train running at 360kmph, apparently confirmed that it is possible to ensure stable mobile communications on Japan’s prized Shinkansen fleet.

JR East, which runs trains in Greater Tokyo and the Tohoku region, carried out  the tests on the whole of the line between Tokyo’s Sendai station and Aomori, 575km away at the northern tip of Honshu. During the trial, testers were reportedly able to download data at 500Mbps and upload data at 100Mbps. Both DoCoMo and the train company had been concerned that such high-speed communications would be unstable due to the influence of direct-path obstructions and the Doppler effect, which causes shifts in frequency.

Meanwhile, JR East says it is also testing some Shinkansen cars as designated teleworking spaces on its high-speed trains running between Tokyo and northern Japan. The new “office cars” are available on up to ten shinkansen trains a day and the trial is set to continue until February the 26th.

The operator says that its office-on-board tests are a response to the current vogue for remote working. If the experiment proves a success, JR East says it will remodel cars as work-spaces on other Shinkansen routes between Tokyo and Kanagawa, Chiba, and Saitama.

Currently, passengers on trains in Japan are strongly discouraged from talking on mobile devices, as it disturbs fellow travellers. However, within the designated office space passengers can freely take work-related calls and full online meetings are also permitted. Riders can move from ordinary carriages to use the designated office car at no extra cost.

The moving office trial has been set up in conjunction with one of DoCoMo’s rival operators KDDI.

As for DoCoMo’s 5G tests, it is hoped that stable, high-speed communications will help to encourage more business travellers. A statement from the mobile operator said that “highly stable communication at 100Mbps or higher was achieved over a distance of approximately 5km, confirming the possibility of practical, reliable communication. Successful handover was confirmed while maintaining data rates at 100Mbps or higher.”

The trials showed successful transmission 4K and 8K high-definition video data: “The advanced capabilities of this new technology are expected to open up a wide range of high-value services for customers travelling on high-speed trains,” said JR East.

Not to be outdone, KDDI said it had successfully trialled 5G technology on board a moving train in 2018. However, back then the company used a train travelling at only 100kmph.

In the UK, during the dying days of its franchise to operate trains on the UK’s West Coast Mainline, Virgin Trains trialled on-board 5G services in conjunction with McLaren Applied Technologies and Vodafone. The tests were carried out on trains running between London Euston and Birmingham New Street, and London Euston and Manchester Piccadilly.

More recently in the UK, FirstGroup has been working with Blu Wireless to bring 5G type services to trains running on the Southern Western Railway franchise ( The system, based on mmWave technology, is reportedly capable of processing volumes of data up to 100 times greater than currently possible with 4G, the technology is initially be rolled out across the South Western Railway franchise.

Blu Wireless says it has developed a new class of mmWave Systems IP based on the IEEE 802.11-2016 protocol with long range, high-speed extensions that support the use of V-band as a channel for high-quality mobile broadband.

At the time of the trials, Simon Holmes, FirstGroup’s head of digital communication, said: “We have worked hard over the last two-and-a-half years to reach this point which will enable us to deploy 5G technology for the benefit of customers and railway infrastructure.

Also, in 2020, defence and transport giant, Thales, employed Vodafone to test-run a driverless train controlled via a 5G mobile signal. The pair claimed that the trial constituted a first in this field. It was carried out at the “Smart Rail Connectivity Campus” in Germany, which is a joint project of more than 100 industry and academic partners led by the Technical University of Chemnitz and with the participation of Erzgebirge Railway. The driverless trains were set loose on the trial track in Erzgebirge where Vodafone had installed some 5G base stations.

Thales provided the control and safety systems for the 5G project in the Erzgebirge system. This included the installation of the test environment and sensors, along with a remote-control system for the train in co-operation with the German Aerospace Centre and Railergy. A spokesman for Vodafone said the company was claiming this as a first for 5G.

On-train WiFi services, trackside wireless networks, the growing market for passenger WiFi and on-board entertainment will be the main subjects of BWCS’ WiFi on Trains Conference on November 16th and 17th this year. For information on speaking and exhibiting and the one remaining sponsorship spot at the 2021 event, please contact  .

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