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DCMS and space agencies plan satellite communications for trains


The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency are planning to develop a demonstration of a hybrid satellite communications and terrestrial network for use on trains.

They have signed IT and business consultancy CGI to work on the Satellites for Digitalisation of Railways (SODOR) project, with the aim of running a number of pilot demonstrations next year.

These will be focused on improving network connectivity for the monitoring of trains and passenger broadband through new constellations of communication satellites filling gaps in terrestrial coverage.

The project will involve developing a roadmap to the aggregation of satellite with 3G, 4G and 5G – dependent on bandwidth and location – along with tools to optimise network selection, an operations and management portal and internet of things sensors.

CGI said it will work with IT partners Icomera, Isotropic 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 while offering better value for money than existing solutions.  

Transform connectivity

Robert Gardner, senior innovation engineer, telecoms at Network Rail, said: “Over the coming decade, new age satellite communications have the potential to transform how we provide data connectivity to railway vehicles, particularly in rural and remote regions.

“Through our involvement in Project SODOR, we aim to learn more about how modern satcoms can supplement terrestrial wireless communications, and explore the potential value and benefits to passengers and the operational railway system."

Mike Rudd, head of telecommunications at the UK Space Agency, said: “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.

“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.”

Image from iStock, Cherezoff 

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