Indian Railways has ended its WiFi trial on board the prestigious Howrah Rajdhani Express. The train, the fastest in the huge IR fleet, runs from West Bengal capital Kolkata to the national capital, New Delhi.
Speaking to parliament, Rail Minister, Ashwini Vaishnaw, confirmed that the pilot project, which had used satellite-technology to connect to the trains, would not be continued. The Minister cited cost-effectiveness as the main reason.
However, RailTel, Indian Railways now privatised subsidiary, confirmed that the move does not jeopardise its ambitious plans to provide wireless trackside connectivity to all trains.
Vaishnaw told parliament "This (satellite) technology was capital intensive with recurring costs in the form of bandwidth charges and thus, was not cost effective. Also, the internet bandwidth availability to passengers was inadequate. Hence, the project was dropped.”
Two years ago Vaishnaw’s predecessor reported that Indian Railways is planning to provide WiFi services in its trains by 2024. RailTel currently provides WiFi at more than 6,000 stations on a self-sustainable basis with no cost to the national transporter.
In June of this year, India’s much trumpeted plans to build a national network of track-side LTE masts moved a step closer to reality, when the government approved the allotment of 5Mhz of spectrum in the premium 700MHz radio band for use by the railways. The spectrum will be used to introduce LTE-based Mobile Train Radio Communication (MTRC) along major routes.
The new chunk of spectrum will help Indian Railways fulfil its ambitious plan to leapfrog GSM-R technology and plump instead for the more advanced trackside connectivity solution LTE-R. The company is aiming to roll out a network of masts in four separate phases. These will eventually cover a total of 64,000km of track. The plan is that the LTE-R network will provide high-speed, on-board internet connectivity right across the subcontinent’s vast, sprawling rail system.
The operator also said that the new wireless system will enable the railways to operate new services such as remote asset monitoring, particularly of coaches, wagons and engines as well as monitor live video CCTV images from the trains. In all, IR reports, this will help ensure efficient, safer and faster train operations as well as supply high-speed Internet connections.
So far, a 650km trial section of track has been equipped to offer LTE-R services. Based on the feedback from trials on four different sections of this track, IR plans to float tenders for the entire network. Phase 1 will cover the “Golden Triangle” which accounts for 75% - 80% of India Railways high-use and high revenue tracks – some 10,000km.
On-train WiFi services, trackside networks, the growing market for passenger WiFi and on-board entertainment will be the main subjects of BWCS’s WiFi on Trains Conference later this year.