French national train operator SNCF has today officially launched passenger Wi-Fi services on its high-speed Paris-Lyon route. The long-expected on-board service will initially be available on 19 of the company’s fleet of 300 high-speed trains, with the remainder being added during 2017. Coverage on the Lyon line will later be extended to routes from the capital to Bordeaux, Lille, Strasbourg, Rennes and Marseilles.

Earlier this year, following a series of extensive tests and trials, SNCF selected 21net and ENGIE Ineo to supply, install and manage the Wi-Fi system on its TGV fleet. According to the operator, the wireless connectivity solution chosen has been specifically designed and optimized for high-speed train services. Belgium-based 21net will supply all of the on-board connectivity products and solutions, while French systems integrator ENGIE Ineo has been tasked with project management, industrialization, installation of the solution, supervision and remote maintenance of the systems.

Voyages SNCF Wi-Fi on-board programme head Amandine Le Saux commented on the project: "Faced with the technical challenges and an ambitious deployment schedule, we selected 21net and ENGIE Ineo as they were flexible, responsive and complementary to each other which is a major advantage in a project this complex."

For his part, 21net CEO Philippe Catherine said: "This commitment demonstrates the technical acumen of our teams and our ability to deliver the best on-board connectivity. We leveraged our long experience in high-speed train environments for this engagement."

According to the train operator, the TGV Connect service will be available and reliable at speeds of 300kmh and between 500 and 1,000 devices a train will be able to get online. Users will be able to connect to the Internet via a portal, available in both French and English. This will provide information on the train’s speed and position, depicted on a map, and will also indicate if the train is about to enter an area of relatively poor connectivity. There will also be an on-board community platform, and passengers will be able to order food and drink from a menu available on the portal.

Back in 2014, SNCF head, Guillaume Pépy, outlined a plan that would see all French trains benefit from wireless internet connectivity, at a cost of some €150m within two years. However, at the time it was deemed that the gaps in mobile coverage as the trains thundered across the landscape of rural France were simply too large. At first it was thought that satellite connectivity could provide the in-fill, though in the end this proved too costly. Now, following the installation of around 100 new masts deployed by French network operators alongside the tracks, mobile connectivity is reportedly no longer such an issue.

The expanding market for on-board Wi-Fi services, as well as the problems of intermittent mobile coverage, proposed trackside solutions and other issues will all be covered in this year’s Wi-Fi on Trains Conference hosted by BWCS.