3 reasons why rail operators should consider private 5G networks

In 2021, we saw an increasing demand for higher network capacity, higher speeds, and a better overall network experience from rail operators with 5G rollouts opening up a whole host of new use cases for data-intensive applications.

Private 5G networks, that are deployed using mmWave equipment in particular, are set to be a game-changer for rail applications. Any enterprise or organisation requiring an extremely reliable, secure network over which they need some level of control, as well as coverage across a wide or complex outdoor area will benefit from deploying a mmWave private network.

Public transport organisations are no exception to this. Rail operators are increasingly looking to deploy private 5G infrastructure alongside the train track, rather than having to rely on public networks, in order to achieve low latency and reliable gigabit-grade connectivity along the whole length of a train route.
Here are the three essential reasons why private 5G mmWave networks are unlocking new value for rail operators.

Meeting next-generation customer expectations

Passenger demand for high-quality connectivity is continuing to rise. In a poll commissioned by evo-rail, it was found that 65% of younger people (18-34 year-olds) view reliable internet on trains as an essential service with 29% stating that they would be more likely travel by train if internet connectivity was improved. This demand has been driven by the growth of data-intensive applications and especially the growing demand for video content delivered to their devices.

The approach to connectivity on board that is most commonly used by train operators today is based on aggregating multiple 4G signals into a data stream and then delivering it through in carriage Wi-Fi access points. Such mobile connections typically deliver 10-50 Mbps per train which is insufficient to meet the needs of trains that may soon carry up to 1,000 passengers. As a result, connectivity experience falls well below passenger needs and expectations.
With the demand for high quality connectivity continuing to rise, 5G mmWave networks are emerging as a fast, dependable, and affordable route to delivering gigabit throughput to meet current and future passenger on-train expectations.

By leveraging mmWave technology and private networks, rail operators can now implement 5G quickly and efficiently, using a ‘plug and play’ approach and making use of existing infrastructure where possible.

Increased uplink capacity

5G networks will transform passenger customer journeys, enabling download intense applications such as HD video conferencing, 3D gaming, video streaming, secure access to office applications and rapid browsing while travelling at high speeds. The unique benefit for train operators though is the improved ‘uplink’ performance of private 5G mmWave networks, which enables them to realise the potential of rail applications such as CCTV for security, rolling stock condition monitoring and infrastructure asset management. mmWave equipment is ideally suited for applications that have both high downlink, but crucially also high uplink demand. Due to its agnostic nature in terms of the direction of data transfer, the equipment can be flexibly configured depending on the applications’ data need.

With the quality of CCTV cameras improving and with ultra HD resolutions becoming more commonplace, cameras are capturing a significantly higher amount of data. As a result, they require much higher bandwidth in order to better serve transport operators with high-resolution video feeds in real-time. Receiving visual, audio, and sensory data in real-time via a high bandwidth, low latency downlink is vital for control centres in order to make rapid security decisions.

Trying to support the growing amount of data being transferred with existing systems would add a significant amount of pressure to legacy networks that often do not have the required range, latency or bandwidth. A 5G mmWave dedicated private network keeps networks for data transfer completely separate from other systems, giving operators more control and greater quality of service.

Superior reliability

Connectivity can often be an issue where railway topography is challenging, such as tunnels, bridges or deep cuttings, or when customers are roaming between different cells and need coverage.

Reliable connections in a constantly changing environment have been successfully piloted with a ground-breaking partnership between FirstGroup and Blu Wireless. The solution has been successfully trialled at Network Rail’s Rail Development and innovation Centre (RIDC) and the Island Line on the Isle of Wight, proving that the ‘rail-5G’ solution is safe, reliable and durable.

This implementation transmits signal from sophisticated trackside (DN) access points installed on poles. Complementary active on-train (TN) antennas installed on the front and rear of the train receive the ultra-high bandwidth via highly directional pencil beams. Real time control algorithms are used to maintain beam connection between the multiple DNs and TNs as the train progresses along the track and passes each DN.

The beam moves electronically to keep the connection as the train passes by, while the connection is also established with the antenna at the rear end of the train. This approach ensures there are multiple connects to the train and no breaks in the connection even when the train is travelling through a deep cutting, thus providing a consistent experience for passengers.

To find out more about 5G mmWave equipment can support an outdoor or wide area private network for your specific application, get in touch with us.