“The demand for seamless connectivity throughout passengers’ journey is today a must. Alstom will support operators in the acceleration of digital trends worldwide.”
The French train manufacturer Alstom is signalling its commitment to improving the reliability and speed of wireless connections on its trains, after the company signed an agreement to purchase a provider of on-board Internet and passenger infotainment. The purchase of 21net, which has offices in Belgium, France, UK, India and Italy and which last year turned over around £14m (€16m), was backed by a Paris-based venture capital firm that focuses on investments in telecommunication and IT, Innovacom.
21net has experience of working with a French rail company, in 2016 21net fitted out Wi-Fi in SNCF’s high-speed trains that by the end of 2017 fitted out SNCF’s entire TGV intercity fleet – 300 trains and 2,400 coaches. 21net has also fitted Wi-Fi and infotainment systems on trains in Italy. Established in 2001, 21net specialises in end-to-end network design and optimisation for broadband Internet on high-speed trains – expertise that will no doubt prove invaluable for Alstom as it equips its trains with the bandwidth required to keep its customers connected.
Speaking on the latest deal, the senior vice president for digital mobility at Alstom, François Beaudoin said it would reinforce its digital offering and expertise. “The demand for seamless connectivity throughout passengers’ journey is today a must. Alstom will support operators in the acceleration of digital trends worldwide.” The acquisition of 21net is expected to be complete in April, with Alstom integrating the company into its operations when it is.
The purchase of the French tech company comes following an announcement from Samsung and KDDI in Japan late last year that it planned to introduce 5G on trains in the country by 2020. Offering proof that the 5G speeds were achievable, the two tech companies carried out a working trial that downloaded an 8K video – the highest resolution video available – and uploaded footage from a 4K video mounted on the train. To make such download speeds possible requires the installation of costly trackside infrastructure, such as masts and base stations which would not only support fast internet speeds but would also aid the train’s operational connectivity requirements, including on-board safety systems and remote condition monitoring.
Presently rail passengers rely on standard 4G mobile networks, a system that often results in signal drop-outs owing to the fact the technology is not designed for use on a moving train that has to serve a large number of people at any one time.
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