News from BWCS

New Dish to Boost Appetite for Satellite-Delivered Data to Trains?

Thu 27 Feb 2020

A Scottish research team claims to have developed a new type of Hybrid Flat Panel Antenna capable of delivering fast on-train Internet connections. The group, based at Herriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, says it will streamline satellite data delivery to trains by-passing patchy 4g/5G mobile network systems.

As things stand, trains, ships and aircraft can be adapted to house motorised dishes or antennas that automatically lock on to a Satellite to supply data connectivity. However, to date, these systems have tended to be bulky and costly, which has meant they are often unsuitable for use, particularly in the UK where trains often pass through narrow tunnels in urban areas.

According to reports on, the new patent-pending antenna is about the same size as a large rectangular computer tablet, albeit a bit thicker. Apparently, the Herriot-Watt developed system makes use of an innovative new approach to electronic control steering, which allows for tracking of the satellite. The new antenna can work with traditional Satellites, as well as the new generation of compact Low Earth Orbit spacecraft in mega constellations (SpaceX, OneWeb, Amazon, Facebook).

The new technology went into development four years ago as part of a European Commission funded project by the European Space Agency. Other public bodies have also chipped in to help deliver the system with money coming from the UK Department for Transport, the ongoing High Growth Spinout Program funded by Scottish Enterprise. Since then, the team has created a spin-out company called INFINECT to commercialise the antenna.

The new company now plans to conduct a user-led field trial with Network Rail by the end of this year, which means that it will need to be installed on some UK trains and will be used to supply on-board WiFi connectivity.

Traditionally train companies have largely eschewed the use of satellite technology, especially in the UK (apart from early use by LNER). However, in Spain satellite systems are in use to supplement gaps in cellular coverage in rural areas. The cost of data supplied via satellite and slower latency times have been the main factors putting train operators off. This has been compounded by the on-going problem of tunnels, which satellite tend not to cope well with. Despite this, as newer Low Earth Orbit satellites come on stream, the Herriot Watt team remain hopeful they have developed a viable alternative.

The roll out of track-side networks, on-train WiFi services, the growing market for passenger WiFi and on-board entertainment will be the main subjects of BWCS’s WiFi on Trains Conference later this year. For information on speaking and sponsorship opportunities at the 2020 event, please contact .

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