21Net, a UK company specialising in broadband Internet access on board high speed trains, has been selected by the Trans European high-speed train operator Thalys to deliver the 'first ever' true broadband Internet access to passengers travelling between Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and Cologne.
21Net has been selected by Thalys as part of a consortium lead by Nokia Siemens Networks. The consortium will combine satellite, mobile phone technologies (GPRS and UMTS) with wireless networks similar to Wi-Fi Hotspots to provide a continuous Internet connection on board trains travelling at the speed of 300 km/h. The service is expected to be in full operation by 2008.
Initially sponsored by the European Space Agency, Cambridge-based 21Net has worked with leading railway operators such as RENFE (Spain), SNCF (France) and Thalys to develop a "Broadband To Trains" system that is robust and technically mature and applies to all railway standards.
"Our successful trial in 2005 with Thalys put us on the road to where we are today, with our first commercial deployment on their trains," said Henry Hyde-Thomson, Chairman of 21Net."We are all the more pleased to have been selected by Thalys, as it represents an important step towards more high-speed trains benefiting from the opportunity to provide a quality Internet service to their customers".
The 21Net system combines low-profile tracking antennas on the train with two-way "Ku-band" satellite transmission to deliver high bandwidth (2Mbit/s by 512kbit/s) connectivity to a master server on the train.
This unique system puts 21Net in an entirely different class to existing competitor systems, which rely on narrowband (56kbit/s) GPRS connections which are then shared between the simultaneous users on the train.
This high bandwidth can be shared by simultaneous users. On the train, WiFi (wireless LAN) connections are used between the master server and customers with WiFi enabled laptops and PDAs.
Already, 21Net is preparing its next generation of lower profile antennas, using jet fighter technology for maximum strength and even lower profile. "This continuous technological leadership will ensure that our broadband-to-trains service can be implemented cost-effectively by all railway operators, including those travelling across difficult geographies or under low-gauge tunnels like the Channel tunnel", said Jean-François de Lantsheere, CEO of 21Net.