Wireless revolution is coming down the line

Sunday, 11 December, 2005

A British rail operator is on track to expand its wireless internet service across its entire fleet of trains.

The plans will transform every GNER train into a 'mobile office', allowing passengers to surf the internet and check email while travelling from one destination to another.

GNER became the first British train firm to offer Wi-Fi on board a moving rail vehicle in December 2003 and the innovative service was incorporated into 10 of its rebuilt Mallard-class trains in October 2004.

Within five months of the 10th train entering service, the take-up of Wi-Fi in first-class carriages rose by almost 50% - while in standard class, usage figures rose even more, increasing by 54% in the same period.

Wireless internet now forms a key part of the new 10-year franchise awarded to GNER by the Strategic Rail Authority and that began on May 1.

Under the franchise, every GNER train will be fitted with the new wireless data communication system that allows passengers with a suitably equipped laptop to access internet and email services by May 2007.

GNER's chief operating officer Jonathan Metcalfe said: "Using wireless internet on board the 10 GNER trains which offer it has been growing at a remarkable pace so we are expanding it across the whole fleet.

"We believe the expanded Wi-Fi service will encourage more people to choose rail instead of driving or flying at a time when we are introducing many more comfortable and reliable trains.

"Wireless internet is already proving invaluable to our business customers as a means of transforming train time into more productive working time. It also has great potential to create a more enjoyable leisure-time experience on our trains and we believe it will be a major factor in attracting more people.

First-class passengers can enjoy the benefits of wireless internet free; users in standard accommodation pay a small supplementary charge, the amount depending on how long they wish to remain online - in a similar way to using an internet café.

GNER is investing up to 75 million pounds in its diesel train fleet, including leasing three additional trains to deliver a planned increase in services - and an interior transformation to bring them up to the same standard as its Mallard electric trains.

All 13 of GNER's expanded diesel fleet will be fitted with wireless internet as part of the rebuild, alongside GNER's 30 electric trains that have been rebuilt to Mallard standard.

GNER's Wi-Fi system is supplied and fitted by Swedish firm Icomera.

According to telecoms analysts BWCS, 625 million people worldwide will be travelling on Wi-Fi equipped trains within the next five years.

Each Mallard is fitted with an antenna that can communicate with satellites and GPRS systems along the GNER route. This is then linked to all coaches on board via the train's lighting circuit.

When switched on, most laptop computers equipped for wireless internet use will automatically detect the Wi-Fi network and direct the user to the GNER "landing page".

Every Mallard coach also has individual power sockets to allow passengers to recharge laptop batteries and mobile phones.

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