Blurred shot of South Western Railways trains passing at speed

New Rail-5G technology heading for British rail network

South Western Railways trains passing at speed South Western Railways

British technology company, evo-rail, is working to develop a connectivity system that promises to revolutionise digital communications within the consumer rail travel industry. The boffins behind the system have been developing the technology with an eye to a worldwide market. The new Rail-5G technology has been designed by rail experts specifically for the railways and is set to bring reliable, high-speed wifi connectivity to passengers, and is already being implemented on UK’s busiest railway, South Western Railway (SWR).

Consistent mobile communications has, until now, been a huge problem for rail operators. Now British company evo-rail is developing what it hopes will be a lasting solution. Their new track-to-train technology promises trackside self-powering masts and antennas. What sets this technology apart is the use of dynamic beam forming technology, which focuses the radio connection between the pole and the train, allowing for high data rates, high reliability, and a low power requirement. This results in a lower power requirement, light weight infrastructure, and easy to deploy radio units. The age of lost connections may be drawing to a close.

Multiple trains, on multiple tracks

It’s a familiar scene. The sun is out, the train is bustling with passengers eager to reach their destinations, and let everyone know about it. Then the wifi signal breaks intermittently, and everyone is left frustrated, blaming railway wifi. That was until now. A new innovation from evo-rail is being introduced, possibly changing the face of rail travel forever. Well, at least the face of your on-board internet access.

close up of female manicured hands operating hi-tech smart phone
Connectivity for the masses, and always on too. Rail-5G promises much for travellers (emo-rail)

Watch out for discreet little poles, standing alone or attached to existing stanchions. You’ll need to keep a good lookout. These poles are few and far between, usually around one or two kilometres apart. Each mast is a five-metre-tall pole with a Rail-5G antenna fixed to the top, which transmits connectivity to the front and back of the train. This continuous connectivity can supply a gigabit to every train, to multiple trains, on multiple tracks at the same time. That should be enough to keep your media social, and then some.

Only self-powered solution

Fibre runs alongside the track, connecting each of the poles together and also connecting the trackside network, allowing radio signals via pencil beams. The poles are self-powered through an integrated solar panel and feature smart technology that ensures a direct line of sight, providing wifi speeds of around 1Gb/s for every rail journey. Evo-rail say the self-powered pole is the first and only self-powered solution that enables rail operators to deliver such speeds to trains, without the need to deploy power trackside. This is not only reliable, even in rural areas, but also cost-effective, with no dependency on cabled power.

Cab window shot of South Western Railways trains passing under the wires
Wired for sound and vision, and speed. South Western Railways is rolling out Rail-5G already

“The Rail-5G technology promises to bring reliable rail wifi connectivity 50 times faster than mobile phone connection, making it a game-changer for rail travel in the UK”, says Simon Holmes, the company’s managing director. “The technology has already been tested and deployed on a trail and proving basis across a number of rail lines. It has already received positive feedback from rail operators and we’re planning to make it it available to passengers later this year.”

Evo-rail is in the latter stages of deploying rail-5G to power South Western Railway‘s wifi such that their customers, and on-board systems, will have access to more bandwidth than any railway in the world. This project is progressing at pace and engineers from evo-rail and SWR, in partnership with the infrastructure agency Network Rail, they have now installed the first series of rail-5G poles on the line between Basingstoke and Earlsfield on the South West Main Line between the south coast of England and London.

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Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for RailTech.com and Railfreight.com

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