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Author Topic: FirstGroup and Blu Wireless partnering to provide superfast 5G Wi-Fi on trains  (Read 271 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, 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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