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Photos: How GNER's on-board wi-fi works

silicon.com tries out the service on a journey to Peterborough...

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Topic: Mobility
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1 of 4 Andy McCue/ZDNet

silicon.com tries out the service on a journey to Peterborough...

GNER's on-board wi-fi works using a combination of a satellite link and mobile 3G/GPRS networks, which enables the operator to maintain 100 per cent connectivity even when going through tunnels.

All 30 of GNER's electric trains have now been kitted out with wi-fi and work is underway on the diesels, which will be complete by the end of summer, eight months ahead of schedule. That will mean GNER is the first UK train operator to offer on-board wi-fi on its entire fleet of trains across the full route of its east coast franchise, which runs from London's King's Cross to Inverness.

Rival train operators have opted for a different approach. On the west coast line, Virgin is experimenting with a mix of wi-fi, HSDPA, non-standard WiMax and satellite technology to allow passengers to browse from their seat.

GNER has said it is also looking at the possible use of wireless broadband tech HSDPA in the future for its on-board internet access.

Rail company Southern is also testing out wireless internet technology with T-Mobile on its London to Brighton route.

Diagram credit: GNER

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2 of 4 Andy McCue/ZDNet

silicon.com tested out GNER's wi-fi service on a journey from London King's Cross to Peterborough this week. Aside from a few initial connection problems on the return journey to London the service was fast, reliable and easy to use for receiving and sending emails, IM conversations with colleagues in the office and browsing the web.

Peter Kingsland, MD of SCI Solutions, the company that provides the Icomera satellite technology to GNER, is pictured above (surfing the silicon.com website, of course) on the journey.

The service is free in first class but standard class passengers must pay between £2.95 and £9.95 for a range of wi-fi access packages. The average usage time is 80 minutes and GNER currently has around 700 wi-fi users per train per four week period, with about 70 per cent of those being in first class, although usage in standard class is now growing exponentially.

GNER claims 22 per cent of journeys that have shifted from air to rail did so for wi-fi, and 19 per cent from cars to rail made the swap for wi-fi too.

Photo credit: Andy McCue

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3 of 4 Andy McCue/ZDNet

One of the biggest challenges in the three year project to rollout the on-board wi-fi service was actually fitting the equipment on the trains, according to Martin Shaw, systems programme manager at GNER.

He told silicon.com: "The Icomera server on the train links to the satellite. We have to cut into the roof of the back engine of the train to fit it in."

The server can just about be seen in the picture above, housed in the small bubble at the left hand side of the roof of the engine carriage.

The server provides a 2MB satellite downlink, which is combined with 3G/GPRS links for complete coverage across GNER's route. Shaw said GNER would look at buying more bandwidth in the future, depending on demand.

It takes around two weeks to fit out one train and all the work is done around scheduled maintenance so that it doesn't affect GNER's timetable.

Photo credit: Andy McCue

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4 of 4 Andy McCue/ZDNet

Wireless access points such as the one pictured above are fitted at the end of each carriage on a train. Every single carriage is, in effect, a unique installation with its own access-point and a wireless 'bridge' between each carriage that links up to the main server at the back of the train.

For GNER this means it can easily swap carriages in and out of a train without having to completely reconfigure the wi-fi connection.

GNER has lab-tested the service to support more than 100 users simultaneously but on-board the trains the current limit is around 40 simultaneous users.

Photo credit: Andy McCue

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