UK rail comms consortium names antenna partner

Reading-based Isotropic Systems has joined the international consortium aiming to significantly enhance UK rail communications using a hybrid of satellite and 5G technology.

Led by Canada’s CGI Group, SODOR (Satellites for Digitalisation of Railways) is backed by the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the UK Space Agency, and the European Space Agency (ESA) as well as partners including Network Rail. The project is aiming to kick off pilot demonstrations in 2022, with a remit to boost WiFi and mobile phone coverage for passengers – including in tunnels and cuttings – and deliver accurate real time information on train location and carriage capacity.

“Satellites play a vital role in keeping people connected, but they can also help keep us safe by providing reliable communications links between trains, drivers and operators,” said Mike Rudd, head of Telecommunications at the UK Space Agency.

“This new project is a great example of the National Space Strategy in action, drawing on CGI’s expertise in satellite communications and working closely with our partners in the ESA to demonstrate how this technology could help supercharge mobile connectivity across the national rail network.”

Key to the boost in capabilities will be a new antenna developed by Isotropic Systems that can facilitate multiple simultaneous connections to satellites in a variety of orbits, including NGSO (non-geostationary satellite orbit) constellations that companies including SpaceX, OneWeb, SES and Telesat are currently launching. The consortium will work with IT partners Icomera and 5G3i, alongside Network Rail and rail operators ScotRail, Northern and LNER, to explore how hybrid networks based on multi-bearer 5G technology can improve network availability.

"We are excited to be part of a project that will significantly increase the attractiveness of rail travel compared to other modes,” said John Finney, Isotropic Systems' CEO.

“Isotropic Systems' next-generation terminal will greatly improve the on-board experience for passengers and provide vital operational and safety improvements for operators. Our collaboration with ScotRail, Northern and LNER means that passengers across the UK will see the benefit. Whether they are working from the carriage instead of the office or taking advantage of improved entertainment options; we hope this initiative will help facilitate a new era of mass rail transit."