ESA ‘Broadband on Trains’ Initiative Sees Successful European Deployment

The first commercial application of the European Space Agency (ESA) “Broadband on Trains” initiative officially launched May 14 on six high-speed Thalys trains traveling between Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and Cologne. Passengers on the trains equipped with “Thalysnet” have continuous Internet connectivity while traveling at 300 km/h via a satellite 36,000 km above the trains.

The satellite link uses a low profile tracking antenna on the train to provide a two-way connection to the Ku-band satellite system and a hub station connected to the Internet backbone. Terrestrial wireless is used to maintain a connection when the train is traveling through tunnels. The total bandwidth from the satellite shared among users on the train is 2 Mbps down and 512 Kbps up. Bandwidth across all trains in the fleet is allocated on demand according to the usage level.

Thalysnet is the commercial name of the broadband-to-trains initiative, which was developed by a consortium lead by Nokia Siemens Networks and including U.K.-based 21Net. 21Net worked with leading railway operators such as RENFE (Spain) and SNCF (France), as well as Thalys. The first experimental Internet service tests were on trains between Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. These test proved that the 21Net system was workable and that passengers were interested in the service. The complete fleet of 26 Thalys trains will be equipped with broadband by October 2008.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.