France Says Au Revoir (But Not Goodbye) to On-Board Train WiFi

SNCF seems to have pulled the plug on plans to introduce WiFi on trains this year.

The French operator admitted at the weekend that it has delayed the roll-out of internet access to every passenger train in the country until 2017. The hold-up appears to be due to less-than-satisfactory mobile phone coverage along the rail network.

Head of SNCF Guillaume Pépy stated last year that that all French trains would have wireless internet connectivity by the end of 2016, at a cost of some €150m. However, following the realisation that the necessary mobile network infrastructure is not yet in place, or at least that the gaps along the routes are larger than expected, the WiFi service will not appear until next year. The French fleet of 450 TGV trains will be the first to get WiFi on board.

Like many train companies, SNCF has struggled to find the best way to ensure a fast and reliable wireless broadband signal to its trains, even as they thunder across empty swathes of rural France. At first, it seemed that satellite might provide the answer but, following lengthy testing, this solution was deemed too expensive and challenging.

The new system will use 3G, and later 4G, mobile connections. However, better trackside coverage will need to be installed first, something the train operator says it is working on in conjunction with the main French mobile operators.

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

For more information on next year’s event, contact BWCS.

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