UK train operating company Avanti West Coast has signed a £45 million deal with BT to improve passenger WiFi and mobile connectivity for passengers on the West Coast Mainline.
Under the terms of the contract, the phone giant will add network capacity to 200 4G mobile phone masts along parts of the tracks running from London to Scotland via the North West of England. According to BT, the investment will enable faster and more reliable on-board WiFi on Avanti’s trains, as well as address signal blackspots along the route.
At the same time as improving the train to shore connections, Avanti West coast has said it will upgrade the on-board WiFi system on its trains. According to Avanti, it is in the midst of significant refurbishment programme of its Pendolino fleet.
As part of the upgrade, Avanti West Coast will be deploying the Fleet Connect system developed by McLaren Applied across a total of 99 Pendolino, Voyager and AT300 trains. McLaren Applied’s 10 Gbps platform, will help improve connectivity on a range of systems across the train company’s fleet, from passenger WiFi to Electronic Point of Sale (EPOS), CCTV video analytics and passenger Information. McLaren Applied says that it will provide service support and that Fleet Connect’s flexible framework will enable the train operator to integrate additional technologies in the future.
Both BT and Avanti were keen to point out that it will not just be rail users who benefit from the network upgrades – people living along the rail routes will also see an uptick in their mobile phone coverage and data speeds. The main areas set to benefit are Cheshire and Staffordshire. However, regions of Lancashire, Cumbria, Merseyside and Scotland should also see some improvements.
The project has already started, however, It is not clear how many new masts are involved in the upgrades.
Rail Minister, Chris Heaton-Harris, said, “Avanti West Coast’s upgrade work, supported by the Department for Transport, is a win for everyone who uses, or lives close to the West Coast Main Line.” He went on, “Investing in better connectivity helps transform rail travel, improving journeys for passengers by building a black-spot free network, with the added benefit of supporting local communities.”
Earlier this year, BT announced it had signed a dela with train company Greater Anglia to supply new mobile masts boosting coverage along its main routes. So far, a total of 24 masts have been installed, with a further eleven to follow. The areas of poor coverage which are being addressed are mainly in Suffolk, where eleven new masts are being installed, with nine new poles in Essex, one in Cambridgeshire, eight in Norfolk and six in London.
In April 2021, Network Rail announced plans to seek a private investor to help upgrade 16,000km of trackside cable network. The deal could net the company over £1 billion and, NR says, will help improve reliability, performance and safety for its frontline workers and passengers.
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 in person, in November (16th and 17th).