A UK government-backed project to investigate new on-board 5G experiences for commuters has been set up on the Glasgow Subway. Researchers from the University of Strathclyde have installed a ‘pop up’ network using next generation technology to provide track-to-train connectivity between Buchanan Street and St Enoch stations.
The trial is being run in partnership with a similar project on the Seoul Metro system with South Korean partners ETRI and is designed to show the potential of 5G in some of the most challenging environments. According to 5G RailNext, the public-private consortium behind the project, a custom 5G stand-alone connectivity solution enables the train to connect to the trackside network. A Cisco WiFi network in the carriages was then used to connect users.
The pilot system is also exploring the potential for delivery of personalised advertising content using Augmented Reality (AR) mobile applications enabled by 5G connectivity. The willingness of passengers to use mobile AR through wearable devices such as headsets was also examined by the project, funded by the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS).
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Two 5G infotainment service applications streamed AR advertising content to devices when the users scanned a QR code, while an AR application enabled passengers to interact with virtual objects overlaid on top of real-world objects.
The final live trials in March were carried out on a dedicated train which drove round the Glasgow circuit continuously during normal passenger service. Triallists used the infotainment applications on handsets and headset devices.
The applications allowed users to virtually try on and buy sports goods from fashion outlets while travelling in the tunnels, something that wasn’t possible before as the data connection didn’t exist. Bringing together the connectivity and the applications, the project was able to deliver and measure AR advertising experience in the mass public transit environment. Researchers say that with their dedicated private train network they successfully demonstrated the live operation and potential of infotainment in an underground rail environment.
UK Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said: “Losing phone signal when hopping aboard an underground train can be a pain in our connected age, so I’m delighted that our £200 million 5G scheme has explored giving passengers superb quality connections to unlock new digital experiences, brighten up journeys and boost businesses.”
Dr David Crawford, 5G Engineering Director from the University of Strathclyde, said: “5G RailNext has shown that 5G mobile technology is well-suited to providing track-to-train connectivity inside tunnels for underground railway systems.
“The deployed infrastructure created a unique test environment, and by testing 5G in these technically challenging contexts, we have a much clearer idea of what is feasible and how consumers can be reached with personalised and engaging information and entertainment content, delivered through new forms of interactive media.”
SPT Acting Chief Executive Valerie Davidson said: “SPT has been delighted to support this project in the Subway and be part of this international collaboration to look at the viability of running 5G technology within our challenging Victorian tunnel system.
“Following the success of the trial, we are now keen to look further at the potential benefits for our passengers to enhance their journey experience on the Subway. With the majority of Subway commuters now using a smartphone, there is increasing demand and a growing expectation on good connectivity to be accessible everywhere, especially as 5G continues to roll out.
“There are also significant operational benefits to SPT, including the use of digital equipment for our maintenance teams and providing track-to-train connectivity.”
5G RailNext was part of the UK Government’s £200 million 5G Testbeds & Trials Programme, which aims to maximise the opportunities for UK businesses, including SMEs, to develop new 5G applications and services for both domestic and global markets.
The full programme for this year’s WiFi on Trains Conference (November 16th and 17th) is available now at www.Traincomms.com .
Track-to-train connectivity and the growing market for passenger WiFi and on-board entertainment will be the main subjects this year’s - in-person - WiFi on Trains Conference.
The 2021 conference (www.Traincomms.com ) is sponsored by Icomera, Nomad Digital, RADWIN, BAI Communications, Westermo and GlobalReach Technology.