Inter-city Internet

Rail operator Great North Eastern Railways is hoping to tempt business travellers to go by rail, by providing Internet access while travelling and ensuring that every second on the train can be used productively.

Following a two-year trial, GNER has installed WiFi services on all of its trains, offering constant Internet connection from every seat.

Providing a continuous Internet connection as the train speeds through the British countryside required some ingenious networking. The system, developed by GNER and its partner SCI Solutions, connects a WiFi base station, installed in each carriage, with a roof-mounted satellite terminal on the train.

The provision of out-of-office connectivity “is about encouraging people to chose us and stay with us,” says John Gelson, a spokesman for GNER.It has obvious similarities to several recently aborted schemes to provide WiFi on flights, but Gelson is adamant that GNER’s offering will not suffer the same fate.

“The airlines are a long way from being able to offer a service like us.”

Although the Connexion in-flight service developed by aircraft maker Boeing has been shelved due to a lack of demand, the offering was crippled by the cost of retro-fitting planes with the necessary infrastructure. And few airlines could afford to take their aircraft out of service, while the equipment was being installed.

By rolling out the WiFi service over an extended period, GNER has minimised disruption. And it has also been able to limit the costs of the satellite link, explains Peter Kingsland, managing director of SCI Solutions. “This is because we are using multiple, national cellular carriers who have huge economies of scale,” he says.

As well as providing an extra incentive for business travellers to take the train rather than a plane, it will also provide GNER with extra operational advantages. GNER staff can access real-time information about services, and book further tickets for passengers, using their issued PDAs as they pass through the train. Ultimately, the system will also enable GNER engineers to remotely monitor and diagnose mechanical data.

Any passenger with a WiFi-enabled device will be able to access the service, and leisure travellers may use it to check entertainment or accommodation facilities of their destination city, or to check ongoing travel routes.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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