Satellite link to improve internet access on trains

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Commuters hoping to log on to the internet on trains can look forward to vastly improved services after the telecoms regulator Ofcom unveiled plans to license new satellite services to deliver mobile broadband.

Some train companies, including GNER, already offer high-speed internet access to commuters using wi-fi technology. This is achieved by building a series of terminals alongside the train tracks, which is an expensive process. Yet services have proved to be inconsistent and do not match the speeds or reliability of fixed-line services.

Ofcom plans to license spectrum that will pipe high-speed broadband services into trains via a satellite link. Train companies could thus install hotspots on trains that could then transmit faster and more reliable broadband access to laptops and portable computers onboard. The transmitters could also potentially support VoIP phones that route voice calls over wi-fi connections for cheap tariffs.

It is likely that network operators such as Vodafone and O2 and wi-fi specialist The Cloud will apply for the licences, rather than the train companies themselves. Those network operators could then lease capacity from satellite operators such as Intelsat or Eutelsat and strike deals with the train companies to provide the mobile broadband services onboard trains.

Operators will need to overcome the problem of tunnels disrupting the satellite signal. This could be achieved by using complementary wi-fi or mobile phone technology within the tunnel.

Ofcom will determine an appropriate licence fee for satellite-based services. It is not holding a competitive auction.

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