CGI, Eutelsat OneWeb, Icomera pilot satellite broadband for UK trains

IT and business consulting services reveal live trials to demonstrate how integrated low-earth orbit satellite and terrestrial communications networks can provide seamless, low latency broadband connectivity on Britain’s rail network

IT services provider CGI has announced that it is running live trials to demonstrate how Britain’s rail network can access uninterrupted real-time communications systems that could improve passenger experience, enhance safety and increase automation.

Outlining the reasons for creating the project, CGI noted that due to the impact of terrain and terrestrial network congestion, many rail passengers will be familiar with dropped calls and poor Wi-Fi or mobile coverage.

The pilot will aim to show how access will be gained through integrated low-earth orbit satellite and terrestrial communications networks which will look to provide what it described as “seamless”, low latency broadband connectivity, and aim to demonstrate how constellations of communication satellites can seamlessly fill gaps in terrestrial coverage and provide additional capacity in a cost-effective way.

The trail is being run with partners Eutelsat OneWeb, which claims to be the world’s first GEO-LEO satellite operator, and Icomera, a provider of integrated connectivity solutions for public transport networks. It is also is connected to the of Satellites for Digitalisation of Railways (SODOR) project supported by the European Space Agency (ESA) and UK Space Agency (UKSA), will support the evolution of rail transport through access to real-time communications systems to improve passenger experience, enhance safety and increase automation.

To demonstrate overcoming the intrinsic challenges in transport-based communications, the trial will take place on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, using test equipment installed on a rolling test-bed, including Icomera’s multi-carrier gateway. Icomera’s SureWAN aggregation algorithm will be used to connect the test bed wirelessly to the terrestrial and satellite networks. Demonstrating the ability of the hybrid network to support varied passenger and operational uses cost-effectively from one common infrastructure will be a key component of this pilot scheme.

Commenting on the deployment on his company’s trains, Marc Silverwood, onboard systems manager at Northern said; “We are looking forward to the demonstration of the technology, utilising satellite communications to ensure good communications for passenger Wi-Fi and train crew applications even when there is little or no terrestrial connectivity.  The North York Moors Railway is a good route to test this on because of large sections where there is no mobile signal and tree cover close to the line similar to many of our rural lines. We look forward to continuing to work with the SODOR team on the next steps, trialling the technology on the Northern network.”

“Integrating terrestrial and satellite networks can provide a cost-effective solution for always-on connectivity. Satellites can provide the missing coverage needed for large transport networks,” said Jaime Reed, vice-president of consulting services for space data platforms and applications at CGI in the UK and Australia. “We are very much looking forward to working with our partners to further address these challenges so that we can bring these capabilities to market.”

“The digital transformation of the railway has been underway for more than a decade, but we are now entering a particularly exciting phase,” added Drew Brandy, head of land mobility at Eutelsat OneWeb.

“New technologies such as Eutelsat OneWeb’s Low Earth Orbit satellite network will enable use cases and applications that we can hardly even imagine today. Critical to all of these applications will be a highly advanced, flexible and automatable communications system that ensures the capacity, responsiveness and security that railways will require.”

Read more about satellite communications

Read more on Telecoms networks and broadband communications

Data Center
Data Management