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Photos: Road testing wi-fi at 320kmph

How does TGV train onboard service perform?
By Natasha Lomas, Contributor on
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1 of 13 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

How does TGV train onboard service perform?

French train operator SNCF is running a trial of a wi-fi internet service onboard three TGV trains that travel eastbound from Paris via the Gare de l'Est station.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas

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2 of 13 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

TGV passengers on the wi-fi-equipped trains can use the onboard internet service for free at present - both in First class (pictured) and Second class coaches.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas

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Passengers with their own wi-fi-enabled laptops (or smart phones) can get internet access during their journey at 2Mbps download and 512Kbps upload rates. The system, which is still in a test phase, only supports 50 users per train at present - or around 15 to 20 per cent of the total passengers per train.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas

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The onboard wi-fi system delivers connectivity via a Eutelsat satellite link, seamlessly switching to wi-fi terminals for coverage in areas such as tunnels or stations where the satellite antenna (pictured) loses line-of-sight contact. Orange Business Services has provided the wi-fi hotspots.

Photo credit: SNCF

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Here a wi-fi-enabled laptop has detected the onboard network: WiFi-TGV. The other wireless networks listed are local networks in and around Paris' Gare de l'Est.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas

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6 of 13 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

First-time users of the wi-fi service are asked to register via an online form before gaining unrestricted access to the internet and a multimedia portal that is regularly updated with videos, news, city guides and other content. SNCF hopes the portal will help attract passengers to use the wi-fi service, which is unlikely to be free to use if it is rolled out commercially.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas

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The portal also has real-time geolocalisation data - showing the speed the train is travelling at, how far the traveller has progressed on their journey and a map of the train's current location.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas

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8 of 13 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

Here silicon.com reporter Natasha Lomas logs onto Google as the TGV travels east across France towards Switzerland. The train can reach a top speed of 320kmph which SNCF says presented extra challenges to developing the wireless internet access infrastructure.

Photo credit: Alper Cagatay

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9 of 13 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

During the train trip from Paris to Basel, Switzerland, the internet connection was not always reliable - perhaps owing to the number of laptop-wielding journalists testing it out. However, when the system was up and running it handled streaming video from YouTube and playing QuickTime movie trailers without too many hiccups.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas

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10 of 13 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

However VoIP application Skype proved more of a challenge.

While it was possible to initiate a call - even a video call - the audio quality was poor and the call itself was dropped repeatedly.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas

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11 of 13 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

SNCF said the internet connection is available 98 per cent of the time on the test routes - with only the crossing of the Vosges Mountains not currently kitted out to facilitate passenger web access.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas

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But a rack of servers (pictured) on board each train ensures content on the multimedia portal is accessible to passengers 100 per cent of the time.

Photo credit: SNCF

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After several hours of browsing, checking email, testing Skype and accessing the VPN, it's time to leave the train and take in the sights of Basel, Switzerland.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas

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