Finnish state-owned train company VR is to receive euros 4.5 million to boost internet connectivity on its long-distance trains. At the same time, the country’s Ministry for Transport and Communications is pushing to “encourage” mobile operators to improve coverage along the Finnish rail network by building a series of new masts.
VR said that is plans to use the new money to provide faster and more consistent internet access on its Intercity and night trains, with the first round of improvements completed by the end of this year. For passengers, the company claims, connections could be up to five times faster on average.
Meanwhile, in a pincer movement, the Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications has held a round table meeting with mobile companies to discuss how best to improve network capabilities on passenger trains. According to reports in Telecom Paper, the meeting was attended by the VR Group, DNA, Elisa, Telia Finland, the Finnish Federation for Communications and Teleinformatics FiCom, transport and communication agency Traficom, the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency, the Helsinki Regional Transport Authority HSL, and the Digirail project. The result appears to have been that the companies involved and the state have all agreed to produce a joint development plan by the end of 2021.
There is no doubt that in some areas of Finland, train connectivity remains “challenging”. The current capacity of significant parts of the track-side mobile networks are simply not up to supplying a large number of simultaneous users. In addition, VR faces the problem that many mobile network repeaters were installed on its trains before the adoption of 4G technology. These repeaters mainly support 2G and 3G networks and enable call and data connections that are slower than the LTE alternative.
VR says that its on-train equipment will be completely overhauled. The modifications to the rolling stock will take place in stages. However, all trains will be overhauled during 2022.
In the past, VR’s own customer surveys found that while 27% of passengers believed the mobile network and resultant WiFi service to be poor, some 31% considered it to be good or very good. VR is reportedly fed up of carrying the can for a patchy WiFi service, when it is most often the lack of a reliable mobile connection that is at fault.
As is the norm in almost all mobile markets, DNA, Elisa and Telia – Finland’s three MNOs have concentrated on ensuring good coverage of built-up, residential areas. Having to expand this to make sure that rail lines are given equal levels of connectivity will, they say, heavily affect their profit margins.
The trio have so far spoken with one voice on the issue, arguing that while covering rail routes is important, providing better WiFi on trains and mobile coverage in Finland’s remote rural backwoods will cost them tens or even hundreds of millions of euros.
It remains to be seen if Finland will follow the route taken by Denmark and Norway where mobile operators have been incentivised to install better track coverage, or if the Helsinki regime will take a leaf out of Network Rail’s book and look for a private partner to help bolster and better exploit its communications assets.
The full roster of Train Operators and Suppliers who will be speaking at this year’s WiFi on Trains Conference – Traincomms 2021 – is now ready.
Please go to www.Traincomms.com and add your name to the list to be the first to receive the programme – hot off the presses ….