Thalys train to pilot high-speed Internet access to passengers

04/22/05

Thanks to the support of the European Space Agency (ESA), broadband Internet access via satellite is being offered to passengers on the Thalys train running between Brussels and Paris.

The initial three-month pilot service will test the performance of this breakthrough in technology as well as assess customer interest. The technology allows passengers aboard one of the trains on the Brussels-Paris line to connect to the Internet with Wi-Fi-enabled laptops.

The system developed by the UK based company 21Net, ensures that all passengers on each carriage receive equal access to the data flow and can in fact work as if they are in their own office while the Thalys dashes across Europe.

The Internet connection is made through a tracking antenna fixed to the roof of one of the carriages. The innovative satellite-tracking antenna design includes specially developed software that maintains a continuous two-way link with the host satellite. The connection is continuous even though the satellite is at an altitude of 36 000 km and the train is travelling at 300 km/h, an impressive technological achievement. The system is also potentially able to offer onboard video servers, news and weather reports and even films; all streamed straight to passenger laptops.

"Everyone is eager to begin accessing the Internet onboard trains," explains Mr. Fermin Alvarez Lopez of ESA Telecom. "21Net's technology is certainly making this become a reality. And the collaboration between all involved is clearly a strength of the project."

This growing demand to access the Internet while on the move requires flexible solutions. This project demonstrates ESA's mission in Telecommunications to support European industry in innovative projects corresponding to users' needs. Having access to email or Web-browsing at both reasonable speeds and costs enormously improves what is called 'the travel experience', benefiting industry, service providers, train operators and passengers.

Beyond this pilot project ESA is interested in actively promoting a European-wide initiative to facilitate the uptake and subsequent consolidation of broadband Internet to trains opportunity. In this respect, ESA is coordinating a forum of train operators to promote pan-European solutions.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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