Brussels, 26 Apr 2005
Passengers travelling on the high-speed Thalys train between Paris and Brussels will be able to enjoy broadband Internet access as they travel, thanks to innovative satellite technology currently being tested.
The system allows travellers in every carriage to access the web using Wi-Fi (wireless LAN) enabled laptops, with everyone receiving equal access to the available bandwidth. The three-month pilot is designed to assess the novel technology itself, as well as public interest in the service.
The technology behind the system was developed by UK company 21Net, with the support of the European Space Agency. Fermin Alvarez Lopez of ESA Telecom says: 'Everyone is eager to begin accessing the Internet onboard trains. 21Net's technology is certainly making this become a reality. And the collaboration between all involved is clearly a strength of the project.'
The train is connected to the Internet via a tracking antenna fixed to its roof. The antenna includes specially developed software that enables it to maintain a continuous two-way link with the host satellite, ensuring that users can remain connected to the web while travelling at speeds of up to 300 kilometres per hour, even when passing through tunnels.
Wi-Fi connections are used to link customers using Wi-Fi enabled laptops and PDAs with a master server located on the train. The system also has the potential to offer onboard video servers, news and weather reports and films; all streamed straight to passengers' laptops.
According to ESA, having access to the Internet and e-mail will allow train passengers to work as if they are in their own office, thereby 'enormously improving what is called 'the travel experience', benefiting industry, service providers, train operators and passengers.
Already looking beyond this pilot project, ESA is keen to promote a pan-European initiative to facilitate the uptake of broadband Internet on trains. To that end, the agency is coordinating a forum of train operators to examine pan-European solutions.