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Transport & Logistics

It’s time for broadband on trains in Australia!

3 Sep 2015, by Informa Insights

Informa recently held its 2nd annual Telecommunications and Train Control Forum in Sydney.

Prof. Ren Ping Liu, Principal Scientist at CSIRO kicked off discussion for the two day forum addressing the topic of broadband on trains, the motivations and challenges that this presents and how we might be able to address some of these challenges moving forward.

Why do we need broadband on train?

There are a number of reasons according to Prof. Liu but primary are; improved passenger experience and productivity and to provide entertainment on the train. Additionally, and arguably more importantly, hopefully enhance safety on the train through increase communication and connectivity.

If arguing the business case for broadband on trains Prof. Liu has a number of facts and figures that could turn the table in your favour. A UK study found that 72% of business travellers were more likely to use trains ahead of cars and airplanes if broadband access was available to them. Increased passenger volumes = increased direct revenue (data charges) and increased indirect revenue (advertising/sponsorship).

Providing broadband on trains isn’t without its challenges, both technically and otherwise.

There is a technical challenge when providing broadband on high speed trains for example. Fast moving trains can cause distortion on radio waves and interference in the radio signal. There is also the risk of frequent hand offs and the potential for complete drop offs. Also along the tracks there are some harsh conditions to contend with that can interfere with the signal, for example, a viaduct or tunnel. There are also concerns over the wind barriers and sound barriers and what they can do to fragment signal. Finally, the carriage itself is a metal cage and can cause heavy loss to the radio signal.

How can you overcome some of these challenges?

Dr Liu went into some detail on the potential solution to these challenges. We have summarised some of his suggestions below:

Train top gateway – use this to aggregate the traffic of the many users inside the train so you can have a group handoff, from one bay station to another thus rduscing the pressure on the system and reducing the loss of signal. Additionally, as you know the approximate time the train will reach the station you can predict the handoff, prepare the signalling and achieve smooth handoff therefore equalling better reception for users. Another plus to this one – Overheads much lower.

Smart Antenna – in trying to deal with signal fluctuation Dr Liu suggests the potential use of a smart antenna to follow the train. Again, you can predict where the train will be as it moves at a constant speed and along a fixed track as well as the approximate number of passengers on board so why not pre-empt the problem? Use the smart antenna to follow the train as it moves along the track. This will allow a stable signal.

5G – To meet the future ground to train control communications we need 5G. Luckily it is on the horizon which will allow much higher data rate, more antennas at a Base Station and would meet ground to train communication at a much better rate.

What about on board network in the future?

Wi-Fi is enough for now for on board network. In the future, however, Prof. Liu says we will need more. For video on demand. Li-Fi is an emerging technology. Li-Fi is basically an extension of Wi-Fi. It uses an LED bulb as the data transmitter and can provide higher data rate, but most importantly there is almost no interference between different streams.

An international perspective

When it comes to broadband on trains activities Australia should look to Europe for some more advanced models. UK, Italy, Germany, Sweden all have some solution using satellite to provide broadband on trains. More recently, T-Mobile started using WiMAX to offer broadband on train technology from about ten years ago. In 2013 UK announced plans for its ‘High Speed Mobile Broadband’ on its rail network.

In Australia, there hasn’t been too much activity. QLD rail provided free WiFi to all city rail network trains. NSW haven’t had real broadband on trains technology introduced. There is some way to go in this regard.

Prof. Liu’s concluding thoughtIt is time to deliver broadband on train in Australia.

Check out slideshare for full presentation slides

About Professor Liu

Professor Ren Ping Liu is a Principal Scientist of networking technology in CSIRO. He is also an Adjunct Professor at Macquarie University, and University of Technology, Sydney. His research interests include broadband wireless communication, next generation Internet, and information security. Dr. Liu received his Ph.D. degree from the University of Newcastle, Australia. He has over 100 research publications in leading international journals and conferences.

Professor Liu is a Senior Member of IEEE and the founding chair of IEEE NSW VTS Chapter. He served as Technical Program Committee chair in a number of IEEE Conferences. He has also been heavily involved in and led commercial projects delivering networking solutions to government and industry customers.

For more about CSIRO and the work that they do visits their website –

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