Commuters travelling between Edinburgh and Glasgow will soon be able to enjoy super-fast internet speeds of up to 300mbps, thanks to a new partnership between ScotRail and Cisco. Working in collaboration with CGI, Network Rail Telecoms, and Wittos, the companies are teaming up for Project SWIFT, designed to provide the fastest train-wifi in the world.
Currently, those travelling between Scotland’s two biggest cities can access less than 10% of Project SWIFT’s capacity, at under 30mbps; “the difference between streaming a music service with interrupted coverage, and downloading the entire Beatles back catalogue, seamlessly in under two minutes,” according to Cisco.
With the existing in-train mobile service in the UK 33% of internet requests on trains fail, and with 1.4b journeys a year, that equates to millions of lost hours of productivity, missed opportunities for online retailers, and potentially dissatisfied passengers. According to Cisco, consistent, high speed connectivity on trains provides a significant opportunity not only for the rail industry, but for the UK as a whole.
As per the recent National Infrastructure Commission report, the use of existing 3G/4G networks for train connectivity has been unsuccessful, largely due to number of tunnels, cuttings and regional 3G/4G black-spots. Project SWIFT is seeking to provide a viable alternative. Led by Cisco CREATE (the company’s Collaborative Research and Emerging Technologies division), and working with government, industry, research institutions, and start-ups, Project SWIFT intends to highlight how high-speed in-carriage connectivity will improve the experience for passengers and help train operators provide better, more reliable, and profitable services.
Project SWIFT has been initially implemented on a full-scale train and test track near Stratford-upon-Avon, and will now see a limited duration roll-out on one of the current fleet of ScotRail trains that operate between Glasgow and Edinburgh. The project will utilise existing trackside fibre to backhaul data from trackside masts. The masts will use unlicensed wifi spectrum to connect trains to this fibre, with a lossless session handover between masts as low as 2 milliseconds. Both existing and newly installed masts will be used along the Edinburgh-Glasgow route to ensure that consistent coverage can be trialled along the line, regardless of tunnels and cuttings.
A proof of concept trial will commence later this year, and run until the end of March 2018.
Beyond Just Internet
The project has the potential to go beyond providing Internet access to passengers, investigating what becomes possible when you add data and insight to connections:
- Passengers left standing, while other carriages are empty? In-train wifi can be used to provide insight into crowding, enabling the Train Operator to relay information on which carriages have spare seats, so all capacity can be best used.
- Lack of phone signal on the train? Using the network infrastructure as backhaul, the quality of VoIP (voice over internet protocol) or wifi calling can be greatly improved. With better carriage utilisation, partnered with consistent Internet connectivity, use of collaboration technologies like video conferencing on trains can become a viable option.
- Safer, more reliable services. Project SWIFT also has the potential to provide advanced insight for train operators, enabling greater safety, security and maintenance with access to CCTV and train monitoring in real time. Current CCTV relies on storing footage on the train to be used for investigation after the event, if an incident occurs. With high speed connectivity, those cameras can be networked, with incidents monitored and detected live.
- Productivity that isn’t limited to your day job. Fast and effective access, combined with opt-in location data, could enable unique retail opportunities. For instance, a passenger could shop online, pickup up their shopping at their final destination – or commuters could order shopping on the way to work and collect it at their home station on return.
“The Art of the Possible”
Beyond downloading the entire Beatles back catalogue, 300mbps of internet will go a long way in making your commute more comfortable. It should enable for totally seamless video and audio streaming, whether that be for recreational purposes through Spotify and Netflix, or for work-related video conferences over Skype.
Scot Gardner, Chief Executive to Cisco UK & Ireland, commented: “Project SWIFT embodies the art of the possible. If the UK is to truly benefit from what digital technologies have to offer, then connectivity has to be a given – even when travelling at 140mph. If only a fraction of the time that we spend travelling is made more productive, the potential for commuters, the train companies and the UK as a whole is immense.”
Rob Shorthouse, ScotRail Alliance Communications Director, added: “We are delighted to be a part of this project. Our customers consistently tell us that one of the things that they expect on their journey is fast, reliable wifi. This pilot scheme, which we are undertaking on behalf of the entire rail industry, will allow us to fully understand how we take our current on-train WiFi to the next level. We are really excited to be involved.”