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ScotRail to test ‘world’s fastest’ in-train Wi-Fi service

The train operator has teamed up with Cisco, Network Rail Telecoms and others to collaborate on an Innovate UK funded proof of concept for ultrafast Wi-Fi on board

Rail operator ScotRail is to trial a 300Mbps on-board Wi-Fi network – billed as the fastest in-train wireless service in the world – through a collaboration with Cisco, CGI, Network Rail Telecoms (NRT) and Wittos called Project Swift

As previously reported by Computer Weekly, Project Swift – which stands for superfast Wi-Fi in-carriage for future travel – is being funded by Innovate UK and the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB), and aims to bring ultrafast connectivity to commuters across the country.

ScotRail was selected for the initial trial at least in part because passengers travelling between Edinburgh and Glasgow can currently access mobile broadband speeds of under 30Mbps, less than 10% of the speeds claimed by Project Swift’s backers.

“We are delighted to be a part of this project,” said ScotRail alliance communications director Rob Shorthouse. “Our customers consistently tell us one of the things they expect on their journey is fast, reliable Wi-Fi. This pilot scheme, which we are undertaking on behalf of the entire rail industry, will allow us to fully understand how we take our current on-train Wi-Fi to the next level.”

“Innovate UK is delighted by the progress of this collaboration, delivering real benefits to the travelling public and offering significant opportunities for smaller UK businesses to work with Cisco, a world leader in information technology,” said Kelvin Davies, innovation lead for connected transport at Innovate UK.

“This project has brought together a unique combination of skills and technology to deliver what promises to be a highly successful demonstration between Edinburgh and Glasgow, and offering significant potential for other routes in the UK and worldwide,” he said.

The problem of slow connectivity on Britain’s trains is becoming more acute, with an estimated 33% of internet requests made while travelling by rail failing, which potentially equates to millions of hours per annum – and with key parts of the UK’s rail network out of range of mobile networks, improving Wi-Fi is perceived as a more achievable goal in the short-term than upgrading 4G infrastructure.

Read more about IT for the rail industry

With the support of Cisco’s Collaborative Research and Emerging Technologies (Create) division, Project Swift aims to address this by highlighting how ultrafast connectivity will improve the travelling experience for passengers.

The technology has already been implemented on a full scale train and test track near Stratford-upon-Avon, and will now advance to limited trials on one ScotRail trainset. It will use NRT’s existing trackside fibre network to backhaul data from trackside masts, which will use unlicensed spectrum to connect the train. A number of new masts will be set up along the Edinburgh to Glasgow line to support the testbed, which is set to run until 2018.

In addition to basic connectivity for passengers, the Wi-Fi network will be used by other partners such as Wittos – a supplier of behavioural analytics solutions – to test out other services.

These could include using the network to give insight into crowding, letting operators provide information on where in the train-free seats are available; adding new insight into on-board safety and security by enabling CCTV and train monitoring in real time.

“Project Swift enables us to rethink the role that connectivity plays in rail passenger experiences,” said Wittos founder and CEO Amy Lai. “Focusing on what the customer wants is key. Our Connected Intelligence analytics platform identifies the small data moments of how connectivity is being used. This empowers train operators to actively shape the demand for more relevant connected services.”

SMEs invited to participate in open innovation

As part of the trial, other small and medium-sized enterprises and startups are being inviting to participate in an open innovation challenge to use live data from the train to build new applications for passengers and operators.

“Project Swift embodies the art of the possible,” said Cisco UK and Ireland CEO Scot Gardner. “If the UK is to truly benefit from what digital technologies have to offer, then connectivity has to be a given – even when travelling at 140mph.

“If only a fraction of the time we spend travelling is made more productive, the potential for commuters, the train companies and the UK as a whole is immense,” he said.

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