Mobile phone giant Vodafone has teamed up with German train operator to increase 4G signals across all major Inter-City Express routes. Together the pair plan to work to eliminate the remaining “grey zones” on the German rail network.
Under the terms of the agreement, Vodafone says it will add sufficient infrastructure for passengers to experience mobile data speeds of up to 225mbps along 7,800km of track by mid-2025 at the latest. The mobile company will also activate its 5G network along important ICE and IC routes.
Last summer, Deutsche Bahn signed a similar deal with Germany’s largest phone company, Deutsche Telekom. A further deal with the country’s other national mobile phone company, Telefónica (O2), is said to be imminent.
At the time of the agreement being made public, the former state telecoms company said that its aim is to supply fast train to shore mobile broadband connectivity on all ICE routes by 2024.
By 2025, DT believes it should be able to supply improved track-side coverage to a further 13,800km of relatively heavily used tracks. The remainder of the DB network will be covered by 2026.
The telecoms company admitted that the often-patchy mobile coverage of Germany’s railway networks has long been considered one of the weakest areas of the country’s telecommunications network.
In 2016, the government gave a deadline of 2019 for mobile operators to take “action to improve coverage along the rail network”. However, little in the way of concrete improvements were forthcoming. According to a 2021 report by the Federal Network Agency, there are around 550 fewer antennas near railway tracks than are needed to provide consistent service.
A recent survey reported in the German press shows that over half of the mobile using population often encounter network failures or interrupted connections, particularly on motorways and trains, with users still viewing network dead zones as a serious problem. The survey, carried out by comparison portal Verivox, reported that 53% of respondents said they had to deal with network failures or interrupted connections “often” or “very often”. Worse than that, a total of 62% reported being aggravated by poor connections on trains and motorways.
By the end of this year, 100mpbs downloads should be available via mobile networks along motorways and busy rail traffic lines in Germany. However, coverage may still be hampered by lack of access to nearby land for cell tower construction – for example in nature reserves or in other zones where building towers is forbidden.
Track-side coverage and new innovations in the rail industry using wireless connectivity will feature heavily in this year’s Traincomms Conference.
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