Free Wi-Fi service on trains in Denmark

Arriva, a train operator in Scandinavia, is offering free Wi-Fi service to passengers traveling across Denmark, starting with the trains that run between Aarhus, Thisted and Tønder in Jutland. Arriva carries more than 7 million passengers each year.

The backhaul for Arriva’s Wi-Fi service is 3G HSPA (High Speed Packet Access) from 3 (www.3.dk) (which is 60% owned by Hutchinson, a Hongkong based telecommunications company). Because almost all of Denmark has HSPA coverage, the Arriva trains will not use satellite as backhaul, unlike in other countries which do not have full 3G or HSPA coverage. Arriva is using Moovera‘s mobile gateway, a combined Wi-Fi access point and cellular router. Arriva will also use mobile gateways for GPS-based automatic vehicle location (AVL) to keep track of the train fleet. Moovera’s equipment is already installed in buses and ferries in the UK and is used by transport operators to provide Wi-Fi to their passengers. This is their first railway project. Network Zone Relations (NZR) is doing the implementation and maintenance of the network on Arriva’s trains.

According to the press release, the nodes will provide up to 7.2 Mbps by creating a bridge between the train and a 3G HSPA cellular broadband network. In addition to providing Internet access to passengers, the train operator can also use the network for CCTV cameras, to collect and transmit telematics data, and track its fleet in real-time using GPS. The cost of the deployment will be partly paid for by ads on the Wi-Fi hotspot landing page.

What’s the difference between delivering Wi-Fi on buses versus trains?

I emailed Jim Baker, founder of Moovera, to ask what are the technical differences between providing Wi-Fi on buses versus trains. He says that there are more potential Wi-Fi users on a train so one has to provide more bandwidth. The way Moovera does this is to install a Moovbox (the name of the Moovera mobile gateway) in every carriage, each with its own dedicated cellular data backhaul. Jim says that this helps spread the load across the train. Of course the chances are that most if not all of the Moovboxes will be connecting to the same cellular base station, so it’s important to work closely with the mobile network operator to understand how bandwidth on the base station is provisioned.

Dealing with tunnels is also an issue. Typically when a train goes through a tunnel, cellular reception is lost. The more frequent (and longer) the tunnels, the more spotty on-train Wi-Fi service will be. Fortunately mobile carriers are working on in-tunnel coverage; in the case of the Arriva trains in Denmark
the tunnels are few and far between, so it is not so much of an issue as it might be in other regions.

Delivering broadband to a train can be a complex and expensive task, especially if the train operator wants to use the connection for CCTV transmission or streaming entertainment, both of which require much greater bandwidth. And routes that go through deeply rural areas typically have no 3G HSPA services for backhaul. So on-train broadband is often delivered using a combination of track-side wireless (using pre-WiMAX or WiMAX equipment), satellite connections (using auto-tracking systems with highly specialized antenna arrays), and terrestrial cellular networks. Where HSPA cellular data networks are pervasive (as in Denmark) and the primary use is free “best effort” Wi-Fi service, then it’s possible for the train operator to keep the costs relatively low.

Massive growth in demand for Wi-Fi on public transit

Passenger Internet access on public transit is the fastest growing venue type for Wi-Fi hotspots worldwide, with 238% growth in the number of online sessions between H2 2006 and H2 2007. Europe was the fastest growing market with 142% growth during the same period (source: iPass, March 2008).

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