Wireless first time for Virgin

Qinetiq Rail is trialling its multi-bearer Connected Carriage wireless Internet system on an operational Pendolino train operated by Virgin Rail.

The Connected Carriage system combines multiple Wide Area Network (WAN) technologies including bi-directional satellite and WiMAX. The specification delivered to Virgin Trains combines WiMAX, satellite, Wi-Fi and cellular which can provide national coverage to a moving train with a continuous high-speed connection at up to 49 megabytes per second (MBPS).

The trial is taking place on the West Coast Mainline, one of two long distance rail franchises operated by Virgin Trains in the UK. Virgin Trains has issued an Invitation to Tender with a view to introducing a wireless Internet service on all its 131 Pendolino and Voyager/Super Voyager trains.

The Connected Carriage system comprises on-train components, train-to-shore links and back-office systems hosted in Qinetiq Rail’s Network Operations Centre. The system also incorporates Qinetiq Rail’s wireless security system enabling integration with existing onboard systems.

Qinetiq Rail has installed Wi-Fi hotspots in each carriage of the Pendolino train to provide Wi-Fi coverage at every seat. These are supported by a Local Area Network (LAN) along the entire length of the train which has the potential to be used for on-board communications, video surveillance and train monitoring. An on-board server caches web content and outgoing emails, and is capable of storing rich media content (such as audio channels, music clips and games for download) for immediate access by passengers.

Several external antennas have been installed on the roof of the train which use WiMAX, satellite, Wi-Fi and cellular technology to maintain a continuous high-speed connection between the train and the Internet. Qinetiq Rail uses a smart router to continuously monitor the performance of the various train-to-shore links. The router decides second-by-second which combination of WiMAX, satellite, Wi-Fi and cellular to use.