St Pancras International WLAN upgrade promises gigabit speeds

Upgrade at St Pancras International and other stations served by High Speed 1 rail service will see increases in capacity and speed

The owner of St Pancras International, Stratford, Ebbsfleet and Ashford high-speed rail stations, HS1 Ltd, has deployed what it claims to be the most advanced and highest performance Wi-Fi network accessible to the UK public.

Its ad-supported network will be deployed in two stages across the HS1 estate, with the first phase focusing on extending coverage across St Pancras International’s substantial site.

The second phase, beginning in autumn, will see capacity boosted by 20 times, said HS1. The company hopes the finished network will enable an upper limit of 7,000 users to stream HD content at the same time.

To accomplish its goals, HS1 plans to upscale 24 single radio units to 54 multi-radio Xirrus 802.11ac APs. It will also upgrade its internal fibre ring from the current 200MB speed to 1GB–  with an intent to go up to 20GB speeds in the future.

“As a network we are always looking at how we can improve commuter’s journeys. With the latest figures showing that the number of people accessing the internet using a mobile phone has more than doubled between 2010 and 2013 – from 24% to 53% – now feels like the right time to install the service,” explained HS1 commercial director Wendy Spinks.

“Whether commuters are rushing to catch a train and want to download the latest film for their journey, or find themselves in-between meetings with nowhere to work from, this new technology will completely change the way visitors can use their time in the station.”

HS1 said it also hoped the upgraded network would bring benefits to its retail tenants, such as the possibility of HD video advertising, and attract more customers and non-travelling visitors to the station’s facilities.

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The deployment will be managed by US-based wireless outfit WIFI Metropolis, which already runs a number of hotspots at the other end of the Eurostar rail link in Paris. The HS1 roll-out will be its first move into the UK.

WIFI Metropolis’ Greg Smith said that renewing wireless networking equipment had become the Achilles' heel of almost all major public network installations, which tended to end up becoming technically obsolete.

“In a traditional public implementation, you can barely complete a connection in five minutes - at St Pancras, when fully implemented, five minutes is a two-hour movie, a few books, magazines and secure access [to] email,” he said.

St Pancras and other mainline rail stations are good examples of what is becoming known as the 'third place', defined by Aruba Networks CEO Dominic Orr as neither work nor home, but where work is still carried out and internet access is becoming a priority.

A number of other transport hubs and providers are planning, or have carried out, high-speed wireless deployments, including Heathrow Airport, which last year scrapped a paid-for WLAN installed during the last decade which by its own admission was no longer fit for purpose.

HS1, meanwhile also revealed plans to launch its own smartphone and tablet app at St Pancras in the next few months, offering services such as special offers, and station and local information.

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