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5G and the Future of Connectivity in Rail

Connectivity is essential in providing an excellent passenger experience. At Nomad Digital we work with operators to ensure that they have the best technology available to enhance the passenger experience.

We sat down with Jeremy Haskey to discuss the future and current climate of connectivity within the rail industry. Jeremy is Nomad Digital’s Chief Architect and has been with the company since 2014 with responsibility for the architecture of Nomad’s range of innovative technological solutions for the market place.

For the rail environment, how we perceive 5G connectivity is split into three tiers:

  1. The top tier – “super connectivity”. In this zone, you can expect a high figure through-put and over a gigabit from the base station to the mobile phone. This type of technology is based on millimetre-wave which is very high frequency. Typically, it will be typically found in shopping centres, busy train stations and generally places with a high footfall and a good line of sight from the 5G small cell to the handset. The challenge with millimetre-wave technology is it cannot penetrate through buildings, the walls of a train or through any type of foliage such as trees or hedges and has limited coverage of only a few hundred metres. When the passenger has an uninterrupted line of sight, millimetre-wave technology allows a throughput of over 1Gbps.
  2. The middle tier – “connectivity range”. This zone is typically reached (travelling by train) upon entering the city centre. It has roughly similar through-puts to what we currently experience with 4G, also called the “sub 6GigaHertz (GHz) band”. It gives the passenger reasonably good coverage in terms of distance and it has relatively good penetration power because the frequency is lower. The coding is similar to 4G but you get a slightly faster connection speed.
  3. The bottom tier – “low connectivity”. The passenger can typically expect a slower connection when travelling through rural areas such as the countryside, 5G will be delivered by what they call the Sub 1GHz band. Typically, in the UK, it will emit 700MHz and deploy a huge coverage range from the base station. However, the throughput will be poor. We estimate 20 to 30 megabit per second and when you reach the end of the cell (furthest point from base-station), the through-put could be 1 megabit or less.

How will 5G affect the rail industry?

Firstly, 5G possesses a more efficient air-interface and the throughput is greater than 4G, due to the developments in antenna technology, often referred to as massive MiMo. Therefore, passengers can expect an improvement regarding connectivity. Today in the rail industry, the typical rooftop antenna for Internet on-board systems is a 2 x 2 MiMo antenna. What we are seeing now with the development of 5G is the introduction of 4 x 4 MiMo rooftop antennas for on-board Internet access systems, increasing the number of elements which radiate a unique signal route path from the source to the receiver. MiMo makes use of the environment around a base station and train to provide a resilient and high-performance connection.

In effect, the train operator obtains a better throughput to the train and can offer an enhanced digital experience to the passengers. However, it is important to remember if the rail operator has low or no cellular coverage in certain areas of their track network, 5G will not solve the problem as there is likely to be no commercial case for a mobile operator to put a mobile network there. This is where a private trackside train-to-ground network would solve the problem.

What is Nomad’s response to 5G?

Nomad is embracing 5G with the latest category twenty modems and 4 x 4 MiMo Antennas for the rooftop of the train, maximising the throughput of the air interface. We are integrating various aspects of trackside train-to-ground technologies for where there is no or low coverage, allowing operators to provide a good to very good throughput in rural areas, increasing the passenger experience. We are integrating private millimetre-wave radios, 5GHz private radio networks and private LTE networks which can be positioned at the trackside, enabling good throughput and coverage, to be privately operated by the rail operator.

Connectivity and 5G for Nomad are key elements in our roadmap for increasing the throughput from the base station to the train. Nomad will maximise the new features Mobile Network Operators are providing with 5G, such as ‘network slicing’, allowing operators to reserve network resources for specific customers across their route, and this will help provide passengers with a consistent and high-quality digital experience.

Furthermore, Nomad is working with a major rail operator in Europe, who are investigating the convergence of 5G mobile technology, combined with very high throughput radio trackside networks to overhaul the passenger experience.

For more information on how a 5G enabled Nomad solution can increase your passenger experience, contact marketing@nomadrail.com.