Digital railway, source: Siemens Mobility

HS2 to deliver seamless mobile connectivity

Source: Siemens Mobility

Soon there will be no escape. Not even underground. “I’m going into a tunnel, so I might lose you” will be thing of the past if Britain’s new high speed rail line lives up to technical expectations. Expectations of its wifi penetration that is.

Passengers using Britain’s new high speed rail network will enjoy seamless mobile coverage delivering uninterrupted streaming and calls as trains speed through its tunnels, cuttings and open sections. Just as well say cynics, as much of the London to Birmingham line will be buried to satisfy objectors.

Could be good, could be bad

Journeys on HS2 will make the days of hearing refrains familiar to many who travel by train today, such as, “I’m going into a tunnel, so I might lose you” a thing of the past. That may be a good thing. It may be a bad thing. It may be reason for seeking out the quiet coach a little more urgently for the speedy journey between London and Birmingham.

An HS2 tunnel under construction. No escape from wifi

For those who want to watch (short) movies, get face time with friends, family or work, or just make calls, passengers can simply link their device with the train’s onboard wifi, which will be as rock solid as the rock under which the line travels for a significant part of its route.

On board download

From its earliest days of development, HS2’s infrastructure has been designed to include technology that provides seamless and uninterrupted passenger communications. In what the company has called a step-change from the line-side railway signalling operated on the conventional network, HS2 wifi signals will be radio based.

A sequence of masts sited every two to three kilometres along the route will deliver the carrier signal. There will also be radio feeder cables running the length of its tunnels. This infrastructure has been developed to also deliver mobile connectivity for passengers. Both will be picked up by each train’s radio antenna. People using HS2 stations will also benefit from the same level of coverage.

A clean sheet design

HS2 engineers believe that the train picking up the signal from the railway’s telecoms infrastructure is superior to just leaving it to passengers’ own mobiles and tablets to link with each passing mast, which could be prone to occasional drop outs, and also reduces bandwidth. “The massive advantage of taking a clean sheet of paper and developing a new railway network for the twenty-first century, is that we can build in the things people expect, like modern telecoms”, said HS2’s head of project delivery for communication systems Richard Kirkham.

“In practice that means HS2 tunnels, open route sections, stations and trains all include telecoms in their design specification, which enables the railway to operate as a single system”, added Kirkham. “We’ve designed HS2 to be flexible so that it can incorporate future generations as well as supporting earlier generations people will continue to use.

Kirkham also alluded to a further potential revenue stream. “[We] will see the benefits of improved passenger connectivity potentially extend to areas along the route. That is because anyone’s device that can pick up the signal can use it.

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Author: Simon Walton

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

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