High-speed internet on trains: research project puts test track into operation
Infrastructure for testing 5G corridors along the tracks realized in record time - innovative radio masts shorten construction time - less than eight months from BMDV funding decision to project completion.
In the future, rail passengers will be able to enjoy high-speed internet and seamless phone connectivity on trains, enhancing the appeal of eco-friendly travel by allowing for efficient use of travel time with quick, uninterrupted online access. To expedite this future vision, a test track around ten kilometers long for high-speed internet on trains has now been put into operation.
The "Gigabit Innovation Track" (GINT) is a 6.4-million-euro research project funded by the Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport (BMDV), where Deutsche Bahn (DB), Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC), O2 Telefónica and Vantage Towers are testing mobile communications with gigabit data rates along train tracks in the south of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, as well as innovative infrastructure for the further digitalization of rail operations within the "Future Rail Mobile Communication System" (FRMCS).
New telecommunications masts constructed close to the tracks are being tested, as well as different combinations of radio units and antennas for mobile and railway radio. Experts estimate that by the early 2030’s, data rates of up to 5 gigabits per second per train will be the required standard to provide passengers with high-speed and uninterrupted internet and telephone connections.
The project partners have built the radio masts, communication, and network technology for the high-speed mobile radio tests in record time. High-speed connectivity was made possible by the pioneering design of thirteen 15-meter-high masts, which were erected by Vantage Towers in just over a month. Their elements were pre-assembled on the ground and placed on top of each other using a two-way excavator and bolted together. The pylons are anchored to the ground with steel struts so that concrete foundations no longer need to be poured, significantly reducing CO2 emissions compared to traditional construction methods. The new construction method should enable an efficient, cost-effective and ecological FRMCS rollout.
The new radio masts are designed so that they can be used jointly by the railway and mobile communications industries. Corresponding business and cooperation models are also part of the GINT research. Synergies in mobile radio coverage through the joint use of mobile radio technology could also significantly increase the speed of gigabit expansion along the railway tracks. The high level of integration of the latest radio access network (RAN) technology also accelerates construction, integration, and commissioning along the track.
In addition to technical innovations, good cooperation between the project partners and the Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport (BMDV), local authorities, and the infrastructure operator Regio Infra Nordost (RIN), was also decisive for the high speed at which the approximately ten-kilometer test track between Karow (Mecklenburg) and Malchow was built. As a result, preparation, development, planning, and construction was completed in less than eight months, showing that future implementation can happen much faster than today's regular expansion.
The BMDV gave the go-ahead for the research project with its funding in May 2023. From spring 2024, the "advanced TrainLab", a former DB ICE train currently used as a laboratory train, will run on the test track to test the systems, and optimize the configuration. Research results should be available by the end of 2024.
Dr Volker Wissing, Federal Minister for Digital and Transport Affairs: "From funding approval to commissioning in just eight months - that's the speed we need for grid expansion. I very much hope that we will soon be able to transfer the knowledge gained here to the rest of the network expansion. After all, in a country like Germany, passengers rightly expect to be able to make uninterrupted phone calls and surf the internet at high speed while travelling."
Dr Daniela Gerd tom Markotten, DB Board Member for Digitalisation and Technology: "We want our passengers to feel at home on the train. This also includes an excellent telephone and surfing experience. The GINT project shows this: We can bring high-speed mobile communications to the train and the track in record time. We are not only turning the train into a rolling office or home cinema, but are also creating the basis for the future digitalisation of rail transport with FRMCS."
Valentina Daiber, Head of Legal and Corporate Affairs at O2 Telefónica: "With the Gigabit Innovation Track, we are testing a paradigm shift and rethinking connectivity on the railway. The mobile communications infrastructure is moving closer to the tracks to provide train travelers with reliable high-speed mobile internet. The GINT study aims to demonstrate the feasibility of fast 5G in fast trains. At the same time, it is intended to make an important contribution to the upcoming discussion about the future expansion of mobile communications along the railway, its costs and financing."
Daniel Leimbach, Managing Director of Ericsson GmbH: "The installation of the particularly powerful 3.5 GHz radio technology on the test track was completed in record time. For the GINT project, we preconfigured a special small but complete mobile radio network, including the core and radio access network, at our Aachen research center Eurolab. This enabled us to deliver it extremely quickly and get the technology up and running."
Christian Hillabrant, CEO of Vantage Towers: "With the GINT project, we are proving that gigabit on the railway is no longer a vision of the future, but can become reality within a few months. By using the same infrastructure for rail and mobile networks, we are realizing valuable synergies in network expansion and conserving valuable resources. As one of the leading radio mast operators in Europe, we are delighted to contribute our expertise to this pioneering project for the future.”