Brighton line to get high-speed internet
Commuters will soon be able to send emails and surf the high-speed internet on the way to work when T-Mobile launches the world’s first broadband service on a train.
The mobile phone operator will launch a free trial next month on Southern’s 55-minute Brighton to Victoria express. The line is used by one in six commuters into the capital.
It plans to offer the service on several other main lines into the capital in the summer when it will begin charging. Users need an up-to-date laptop computer — and a seat.
T-Mobile’s service uses a pioneering wireless technology called Wimax, which many analysts see as a threat to 3G, the high speed mobile internet technology.
At the height of the dotcom boom, Britain’s mobile companies paid £22.5bn for licences to run 3G services, which were later massively delayed.
Although 3G products such as video phones have finally become available, 3G signals on train routes remain patchy, making it difficult to connect to the internet on journeys.
To solve the problem, Southern has allowed T-Mobile to place powerful Wimax base stations, which have a signal radius of thirty miles, along its tracks.
The base stations can pick up moving signals from designated carriages which T-Mobile has turned into so-called ‘wireless hotspots’ by installing special equipment.
Hotspots are already common in airports and coffee shops, enabling people to surf the internet at high speed — without plugging into a phone line — by using the short-range wireless technology known as wi-fi, which comes as standard on most laptops.
However, until now no company has been able to provide a broadband connection on the move. According to Nomad Digital, which installed the base stations on behalf of T-Mobile, the service will even work in tunnels.
Although the London to Brighton route presents many challenges we have proved that high-speed wireless access to moving trains is possible without building huge towers or other costly infrastructure,said Nomad’s executive chairman Nigel Wallbridge.
Whether the train travels through tunnels, bridges or high hedgerow, customers should not experience a drop in service.’Hamid Akhavan, T-Mobile’s chief technology officer, sought to set expectations low, however, as he revealed plans at the 3GSM World Congress in Cannes.
Inevitably it will not be perfect,he said.It will not work everywhere and it will have teething problems. But it is leading edge technology.Rivals were more sceptical. Steve Andrews, managing director of BT Retail’s mobile division, said:Technically it should work, but will the business model? There are a lot of people who will download work to do before they get on the train and happily wait for web access until they get to the office.Others wondered how many commuters would be comfortable advertising their expensive laptops.