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Author Topic: FirstGroup and Blu Wireless partnering to provide superfast 5G Wi-Fi on trains  (Read 1455 times)
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« on: February 20, 2020, 08:19:28 pm »

I just read that the first installation of this kit, "running out of Basingstoke, will launch in the spring." I assume that means spring 2020, but I'm less sure which direction it's running in or what "launch" implies in the context. Blu Wireless's site has lots of words, but is not what I'd call prose, so this is a news release from a year ago.

From First Group:
25 Feb 2019

First use of 5G technology on trains to enable faster, high-quality streaming required by most smart phones

Offers a unique opportunity to improve connectivity for rail infrastructure as well as customers

As demand for fast reliable Wi-Fi on public transport grows exponentially, FirstGroup and Blu Wireless are today announcing a project to significantly-boost the quality of connectivity on trains, by pioneering the use of 5G technology on the railway. The new technology is so powerful it will enable reliable streaming, rapid browsing and connectivity to cloud-based applications like Office 365 – keeping pace with the requirements of devices that many customers take for granted.   

Rail operators have long-sought to improve the quality of Wi-Fi and faced significant cost and technical challenges in doing so. Now, Blu Wireless, FirstGroup and other strategic partners including Network Rail, the Department for Transport and the Department for Culture Media and Sport, have developed an economically viable, end-to-end 5G solution that will transform customers’ journeys. The new technology can process volumes of data 100 times greater than currently possible with 4G technology, meaning it will be much easier for customers to enjoy consistent and fast Wi-Fi connectivity on their train.

The partnership will also be a market first for the UK (United Kingdom), with FirstGroup’s Rail Division becoming the exclusive supplier of Blu Wireless’s new 5G rail system for customers and rail infrastructure providers. FirstGroup and Blu Wireless will work to roll out the technology, initially on the South Western Railway franchise. It will also work with Network Rail to harness 5G to improve railway infrastructure.

As is often the case, the "notes to editors" has more useful information than the text:

  • FirstGroup and Blu Wireless have been working together for several years to develop and optimise a 5G trackside-to-train communications solution to address the general lack of 4G coverage of our Train Operations
  • Passengers are heavy users of Wi-Fi/mobile data not only for catching up on social media and box sets but also for planning their onward journey, finalising work deliverables, emails and finetuning a sales pitch.
  • FirstGroup wants to deliver the best possible customer experience and this means providing superfast, reliable connections on our trains.
  • The search for a 5G solution began with research at the University of Bristol and rapidly became a development with Blu Wireless for the 5G Radio portion of the end-to-end, train and trackside solution. This has proven that together we can consistently deliver over 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) throughput to a moving train, where up to 800 customers on a peak service often share far less than a 20th of this capacity, which can be unusable.

The Technology

The key enabling technology in this project are Blu Wireless’s rail 5G radio system designed for high-speed transport applications, that through electronic beamforming on transit and receive antennas can creates a moving point-to-point connection of greater than 1Gbps per antenna. Noting that we may have up to 3 on-train antennas in-beam at any moment, this gives a combined multi-gigabit capability. However, it is not just a unique 5G radio system but its combination with trackside networking, specialist poles and mounts (trackside and on train), new deployment methods, that all go towards making a viable rail optimised solution that can be deployed at speed almost anywhere in the world.

The trackside radio unit is designed to be exceptionally small, making it simple to deploy in a variety of locations; from on simple short trackside poles to a gantry, stanchion or even a platform lighting pole. The millimetre wave radio operates at exceptionally low power (approximately 1% of the power of a typical 4G base station) and as Ofcom has recently concluded, this is the only realistic spectrum with sufficient bandwidth to satisfy the multi-gigabit rail requirement.

The last thread on something similar started in 2015 and hasn't led to anything yet, hence this one is "future" - which maybe ought now to inch forward from 2020...
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« Reply #1 on: October 25, 2022, 05:40:36 pm »

I've not seen a thing about this since, but something has been happening - indeed, quite a lot - if not quite as soon as they said (but then, this is the railway!).

First, there was a trial installation on the Island Line, which was reported as a success in spring 2021, as in Blu's re-publishing of an article from Global Railway Review:
Using Blu Wireless’s 5G mmWave platform, which is suitable for infrastructure applications such as 5G backhaul and transportation, the solution has been successfully trialled at Network Rail’s Rail Development and innovation Centre (RIDC) and the Island Line on the Isle of Wight.

Covering ten miles of the Island Line, this implementation transmits signal from sophisticated trackside (DN) access points installed on poles. Complementary active on-train (TN) antennas installed on the front and rear of the train receive the ultra-high bandwidth via highly directional pencil beams. Real time control algorithms are used to maintain beam connection between the multiple DNs and TNs as the train progresses along the track and passes each DN. As a train approaches a trackside node, a pencil beam connects it with the antenna on the front of the train. The beam moves electronically to keep the connection as the train passes by, while the connection is also established with the antenna at the rear end of the train. This ‘make before break’ approach ensures there are usually multiple connects to the train and no breaks in the connection even when the train is travelling through a deep cutting, thus providing a consistent Wi-Fi experience for passengers.

If you want that in pretty pictures rather than long words, there's a video about it too. That comes from "evo rail", a subsidiary set up within First Group to exploit the system. (Note: not Evo-rail which is an SSDDC (scalable sofware-defined data centre) from VMware.) The name Blu Wirelss seems to have vanished now.

But today's news is from SWR» (South Western Railway - about), and says:
    South Western Railway, evo-rail, and Network Rail bringing new superfast Wi-Fi to train passengers

  • SWR customers will enjoy superfast Wi-Fi on-board SWR services from Basingstoke to Earlsfield
  • The technology will cover over 70km of railway, in a first for the UK (United Kingdom) mainland
  • Full deployment is likely to complete and launch for customer use in early 2023

The rail-5G project to deploy superfast on-board Wi-Fi for South Western Railway (SWR) customers between Basingstoke and Earlsfield is progressing at pace. Engineers for the project by evo-rail and SWR, in partnership with Network Rail, have now installed the first series of rail-5G poles on the line between the stations on the South West Main Line.

It will be the first railway line in the mainland UK to deploy the industry-leading rail-5G technology for customer use. With over 100 trains already fitted to accommodate the solution, the technology will cover 70km of the SWR network.

Evo-rail, a telecoms company part of FirstGroup, has developed rail-5G as the first multi-gigabit internet solution built for the railways. Rail-5G can dramatically improve connectivity on trains, with the technology enabling the delivery of superfast continuous internet, at 50 times the current average speeds.

With rail-5G, passengers will be able to enjoy unprecedented levels of connectivity, similar to what they are used to at home or in the office, allowing them to stream videos, make video calls, download large files, and much more.

In terms of what it is physically, it's little boxes on poles beside the line up to 1 km apart but, as it works only on line of sight, in most places closer than that. And if it works, one train will still share bandwidth, but more of it - their example shows two radio links at 400 GB (Great Britain)/s each. Is that the limit? Probably not.
« Last Edit: October 25, 2022, 07:25:32 pm by stuving » Logged
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« Reply #2 on: October 25, 2022, 08:07:01 pm »

I didn't see any mention of pricing but this paragraph suggests to me that it won't be free.

Rail-5G has been developed and designed as a specialist solution for the railways. As well as exceeding all the standards and regulations set in Europe and the UK (United Kingdom) for trackside and train installations, it has been designed to be quick to install, sustainable, and deliver a return on investment for train operators.
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« Reply #3 on: October 25, 2022, 09:03:15 pm »

I didn't see any mention of pricing but this paragraph suggests to me that it won't be free.

Rail-5G has been developed and designed as a specialist solution for the railways. As well as exceeding all the standards and regulations set in Europe and the UK (United Kingdom) for trackside and train installations, it has been designed to be quick to install, sustainable, and deliver a return on investment for train operators.

There were a few more reports from spring last year, such as Modern Railways and  Rail Technology Magazine. I guess we were preoccupied at the time by the same thing that put a one-year delay in the roll-out.

Obviously they are all based on the same material, and seem to be saying that it will start off as an alternative back-haul to the current one based on the mobile networks. So it won't be a distinct service to users, for which a charge could be made. But of course Treasury pressure could change that, and indeed do the same for all on-board WiFi. WiFi provision is now written into contracts by DfT» (Department for Transport - about), though I don't remember if they say it should be free.
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