Antenna partner joins UK rail comms consortium

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Satcom antenna specialist Isotropic Systems has joined the consortium tasked with transforming UK rail communications with 5G and satellite technology.

(Credit: tomek-baginski via Unsplash)

The Satellites for Digitalisation of Railways (SODOR) project is led by Canada’s CGI Group and backed by the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the UK Space Agency, and the European Space Agency (ESA).

Beginning with pilot demonstrations in 2022, SODOR is aiming to dramatically improve connectivity for the UK’s rail network, including boosting WiFi and mobile phone coverage for passengers – even in tunnels and cuttings – and delivering accurate real-time information on train location and carriage capacity.

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“Satellites play a vital role in keeping people connected, but they can also help keep us safe by providing reliable communications links between trains, drivers and operators,” said Mike Rudd, head of Telecommunications at the UK Space Agency.

“This new project is a great example of the National Space Strategy in action, drawing on CGI’s expertise in satellite communications and working closely with our partners in the ESA to demonstrate how this technology could help supercharge mobile connectivity across the national rail network.”

Isotropic Systems Multi-Link Terminal (Credit: Isotropic Systems)

Central to the boost in capabilities will be a new antenna developed by Reading-based Isotropic Systems that can facilitate multiple simultaneous connections to satellites in a variety of orbits, including NGSO (non-geostationary satellite orbit) constellations that companies including SpaceX, OneWeb, SES and Telesat are currently launching.

The consortium will work with IT partners Icomera and 5G3i, alongside Network Rail and rail operators ScotRail, Northern and LNER, to explore how hybrid networks based on multi-bearer 5G technology can improve network availability.

"We are excited to be part of a project that will significantly increase the attractiveness of rail travel compared to other modes,” said John Finney, Isotropic Systems' CEO.

“Isotropic Systems' next-generation terminal will greatly improve the on-board experience for passengers and provide vital operational and safety improvements for operators. Our collaboration with ScotRail, Northern and LNER means that passengers across the UK will see the benefit. Whether they are working from the carriage instead of the office or taking advantage of improved entertainment options; we hope this initiative will help facilitate a new era of mass rail transit."